“Today’s the anniversary,” said Bill Page of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, on April 6, recalling the engine failure he experienced in a Mooney M20J single-engine airplane exactly a year earlier.
Page, a 3,000-hour pilot and the holder of the FAA’s prestigious Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award, had been flying for about a half hour with the aircraft’s owner, practicing takeoffs and landings, when the engine stopped shortly after the fourth takeoff. The off-airport landing from an altitude of about 400 feet agl happened so fast there was no time to think about it.
“I did what training says, if there’s not enough altitude (to turn back) put it down straight ahead,” he said.
Page already had an idea how much altitude he would need to attempt what is called, as a result of dubious outcomes, “the impossible turn.” A fortuitously recent simulator session had reinforced his estimate.
The Mooney was totaled when it hit a wire-mesh fence. But no one was injured—and on the other side of that fence lies a major interstate highway.
No probable cause was determined for the engine failure. Page, an engineer, has theories, but they are unlikely to be confirmed, a realization he finds frustrating.
Although the accident happened so fast his response seemed automatic, his reaction was based on two piloting decisions made long in advance, both of which probably kept the outcome from being much worse.
Not attempting the impossible turn from so low an altitude was one decision. The other was Page’s action, with only seconds available, to continue flying the aircraft rather than distract himself with doubts about whether he or the aircraft’s owner should handle the emergency.
“I had flown with him quite a bit, and we had a tacit understanding that if it’s my turn to fly, I’m going to do everything,” Page said.
As a student pilot, you have been instructed on how you and your instructor will handle a positive transfer of control scenario, should the CFI need to take over.
When you become a private or sport pilot, and find yourself flying socially alongside someone of similar ratings or experience, the same procedural clarity must exist in your cockpit.
So remember what happened on April 6, 2015, and agree with your fellow pilot before you fly how you will handle any emergency. Then stick to the plan, without reservations.