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Monday, June 17, 2013
A WOULD-HAVE-BEEN AIRPLANE CRASH, Chapter Three, “There Is No Way We Can Survive”
The banging engine struggled to continue producing power, we had no forward visibility, and every few seconds a fireball erupted from the engine cowling and lit the night sky in sickening orange and yellow. I asked my friend to declare an emergency to Jacksonville Center, you might recall that only my friend could talk to the outside world through his headset and the push to talk switch mounted on his side of the airplane.
He did as I asked, declared an emergency, and described our situation to the man in a darkened room on the other side of Florida. The controller verified he understood and stated he would guide us to the Crystal River airport 24 miles away. He immediately gave us a heading. When I heard the incorrect sounding numbers I checked the bouncing magnetic compass (our Directional Gyro was powered by engine vacuum and no longer worked), it confirmed my fear, like the control tower in Tampa Jacksonville Center gave us a wrong heading. I asked my friend to tell him it was wrong. The trembling voice that came back over the radio instantly corrected his mistake. In the meantime I was already making a right turn to what I felt sure was the direction of the nearest town. My intuition matched our reality and I quickly rolled out on a magnetic course to the airport.
The sound of the engine was many times louder than normal, probably due the fact that there was an 18 inch diameter hole in the top of the engine through which all but a cup full of oil had spewed. My friend turned to me and asked if we could survive. I switched off the intercom that looped his son in our conversation and explained that we most likely would not survive. I don’t remember exactly, but I suspect I used somewhat more colorful language. If we tried to land in the rough and craggy ocean below, our fixed gear aircraft (the wheels do not retract on this model) would flip us upon impact regardless of how excellent our landing. We would die in the crash or drown. Our other fatal option was the 76 gallons of high octane avgas, which filled our wing tanks, would explode midair. Our aircraft could not glide to the airport without an engine and the likelihood of our mangled power plant continuing to produce power was slim.
There was no good news and I had life or death split second decisions to make.
Tomorrow: Chapter Four, “The Lesser of Two Evils, My Choices”
Your comments and questions are always welcome.
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