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Pilot who crash landed in Trussville on Thanksgiving shares story

By Gary Lloyd

TRUSSVILLE — A pilot who crash landed his single-engine plane in Trussville near the Cahaba Cove subdivision on Thanksgiving Day 2013 has shared his story.

Kent Ewing, a former naval aviator and instructor for the Beechcraft Pilot Proficiency Program now specializing in baron pilot training, wrote his story last month for the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association website, www.aopa.org. The story is titled “Power out! Lessons from an emergency.”

Ewing, his son and his son’s girlfriend were on the plane, bound for Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport from Norfolk, Va.

The scene of the plane crash on Thanksgiving Day 2013
file photo by Ron Burkett

Ewing wrote that he expected a three-and-a-half-hour flight, heading to his daughter’s home with a cooked pumpkin pie on board. He wrote that as the trio passed north of Atlanta, they commented on how great the visibility was, able to see downtown Atlanta and pick out Stone Mountain east of the city.

“It was one of those days,” Ewing wrote. “The drone of the engine put my two passengers to sleep for a short while, and I took a peaceful shot of them using my iPad mini. It was the quiet before the storm.”

Passing 5,400 feet the trio heard a muffled pow/blam, had immediate white smoke in the cabin, and a spray pattern of oil on the windscreen, Ewing wrote. He put out an immediate mayday, and opened the window to clear the smoke. Birmingham cleared them to land on any runway and air traffic control informed Ewing where all the freeways were.

“I did not think we had engine power to nurse it the eight more miles to the field,” Ewing wrote. “I did play with throttle and mixture to see if there was any power setting that gave me any horsepower, but when I pulled the propeller out to increase glide, nothing happened. I slowed to 100 knots, trimmed, and everything settled to the nominal 1,000-feet-per-minute rate of descent and about 1,100 to 1,200 rpm. The prop was driving the engine and clanking and vibrating. I reached down and switched tanks.”

Ewing wrote there were no freeways in sight, just lots of trees. He committed to the only open field in his view, with a north-to-south orientation and trees all around. It appeared to be about 2,000 feet long, though it turned out to be about eight acres with a fenceline down the middle, he wrote.

Ewing wrote that he turned left, or south, to about 150-degree heading, extended the gear and full flaps, trimmed some nose up, and then S-turned and slipped to the right to attempt to get down in the northern half of the field. He lined up parallel to the fenceline and saw a gray barn at the far south end of the field. The place Ewing wanted to touch down ended up 1,000 feet behind him. When landing, the plane bounced twice and the brakes were locked.

“Our skid marks showed up about 300 feet prior to the barn, which I was keeping to the right,” Ewing wrote. “As we hit the southern edge of the gravel drive leading up the barn, we went airborne again and into the treeline at 50 knots and 15 degrees nose up. I was aiming at light spots between the trees, which were mostly small oaks. We did not hit any head-on. The right wingtip light was removed by a pole next to the barn, but the left wing hit a tree with enough force to turn us left 90 degrees before we came to a stop by a hefty tree, which caught the airframe at the right wing root where the door hinges are. The door flew off and landed about 30 feet away; my sunglasses and my son’s cellphone went another 100 feet down the same track.”

Ewing wrote that he was semi-pinned between the seat back and the left yoke, which his son pulled out of the way.

“The NTSB ordered an engine teardown by Continental Motors, and I was allowed to be there,” Ewing wrote. “They found out the number two piston crankshaft bearing was oil-starved, failed, and caused the connecting rod to break at the crank journal end. It also broke at the piston pin end, and that caused the rod to break through the engine case.”

Ewing wrote that he learned three things:

  • If you do not have shoulder harnesses, do not fly your airplane. I won’t go with you.
  • Always have a place picked out to land, no matter the phase of flight. Always know the terrain below you, the surface wind, and the glide ratio. At 5,000 feet agl you have five minutes until you touch down with no power.
  • Execute your plan to meet up with the ground, and fly the airplane all the way into the crash.

There were no serious injuries in the crash.

“They were very fortunate,” Trussville Police Chief Don Sivley said last year. “They were all walking around. No broken bones or anything serious. Just some bumps and bruises.”

To read Ewing’s full story, visit www.aopa.org.

Contact Gary Lloyd at news@trussvilletribune.com and follow him on Twitter @GaryALloyd.

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