February 9, 2012
By Sarah Brown
Vermont Rep. Janice Peaslee said she doesn’t leave home without flight following. On Oct. 9, the precaution paid off.
The private pilot was flying back from Fitchburg, Mass., to her home field in Caledonia, Vt., when she heard the engine of her Cessna 150 start to sputter and lose power. Glancing at the tachometer, she watched the rpm fluctuate. Alerting Boston Center of the trouble, she applied full power to gain altitude, but soon the cockpit went quiet.
“Sorry, there is no power,” she told ATC. “My prop has stopped, I’m just a glider I guess.”
The exchange that followed, leading to a successful on-airport landing at Concord, earned controllers Chris Henchey and Ryan Workman an Archie League Medal of Safety Award from the National Air Traffic Controllers Association and reinforced Peaslee’s belief in the value of contact with ATC—and in practicing emergency procedures.
“It may not be fun, but it sure does pay off,” Peaslee later said of the practice. She added that the controller’s calm, reassuring voice helped her maintain her cool through the engine restart sequence and prepare for what she expected would be a bumpy landing in a cornfield.
Henchey, a pilot with experience in the similar Cessna 152, went through the engine-failure checklist and provided wind information. Peaslee had climbed from 4,500 feet msl to 5,000 feet msl before the engine stopped, she said, so she had time to plan the descent. Looking down at the large yellow field she had picked as a landing site, she speculated that it might be a cornfield—and that she would see the corn stalks still standing as she flared. Following the restart sequence, she turned the key in the circling descent: nothing.
Knowing he would lose radio contact as she descended, Henchey—who had offered assistance to Workman because of his pilot experience—gave instructions for touching down and calling guard. Then, Peaslee dropped out of radio contact below 2,000 feet.
She decided to give it another shot, this time priming first. “I turned the key, and she started,” Peaslee recalled. At 1,800 feet, controllers watched the aircraft begin to climb.
“How’s your engine running now?” the calm voice on the radio asked.
“Well, it’s running.”
Peaslee continued to Concord, where, she later said, “I think I made the best landing I ever made. … I greased it.”
The engine out—later found to be the handiwork of a mud wasp building its nest—underscored the importance of emergency-procedure training, Peaslee said. She swears by flight following and the assistance ATC can provide.
“It’s just great to know that they’re there when you need them,” she said. “… The only thing they can’t do is fly the plane for you.”
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