A pilot intending to execute a surprise marriage proposal above the central Maryland countryside Aug. 26 hit a bit of unintended turbulence after a bird strike badly damaged his aircraft’s right wing and necessitated an emergency landing at Frederick Municipal Airport.
Despite the serious encounter with a goose flying at 2,000 feet near the Washington, D.C., Special Flight Rules Area, pilot Ali Kaan Ozdemir and his girlfriend Ambra Xhepa landed safely. And he wasted no time in dropping to a knee to ask Xhepa to marry him.
Ozdemir, 23, is a private pilot and an instrument student working his way toward a career pilot position, so he figured that a sight-seeing flight with a lunch stop would be a romantic way to ask Xhepa to marry him.
Weather conditions were perfect and everything was going according to plan, even though Ozdemir was a little nervous. He said he hadn’t decided exactly when to pop the question—on the outbound flight, during lunch, or on the way back to his home base at Montgomery County Airpark in Gaithersburg, Maryland.
“I heard a noise like a ‘boom’ and realized something happened” to the Octopus Flying Club's red-white-and-gold Piper Warrior, Ozdemir said.
“I looked around and when I checked my right wing I saw damage to the outside of it and then a large goose slipped away” from the crushed leading edge, he said.
“I was straight and level at 2,000 feet and intended to land at the Frederick airport for lunch but I was waiting on permission” to enter the Class D airspace, he said. “After I hit, [the bird] the airplane started descending rapidly because of the damage to the wing and it wasn’t able to maintain altitude.”
Ozdemir said his flight training quickly kicked into gear and he told the control tower personnel he had problems and needed an immediate descent to the airfield.
Ozdemir said he trained for emergency situations and simulated them but “never experienced it before in my life.”
He remembered his instructor’s words of wisdom to “contact the control tower, be calm, and act like the pilot-in-command.”
The Frederick control tower cleared the airspace, and after he landed Ozdemir said, “They asked me if I needed emergency equipment but there was no fire.” He declined the assistance and taxied to the Signature Flight Support ramp where the couple were met by concerned emergency personnel, nonetheless.
“We came over there to check on them,” said assistant airport manager Nick Sabo, “and it was kind of surreal. They kind of stumbled out of the airplane and he dropped to one knee and then it got real quiet.”
Despite the bird strike’s distraction from his original plan, Ozdemir realized he had the perfect moment to pop the question.
“So I sat on my knee and I asked Ambra, ‘Would you marry me, baby?’ and she said ‘Yes!’”
Airport manager Rick Johnson took a few photos of the moment, making sure to include the mangled wingtip, the ring, and the relieved aviators.
“After lunch Ambra asked me if I still wanted to continue my career to become an airline pilot,” said Ozdemir.
And then it was his turn to reply.
“I said, ‘Definitely, yes, it is my dream.’”