One of the greatest fears of a pilot of a single-engine aircraft is losing an engine at low altitude without many options for where to land it. A Canadian pilot lost engine power less than a minute after takeoff and managed to do a textbook safe landing onto a highway.
On Wednesday morning, a pair of pilots departed on a ferry flight from Buttonville Municipal Airport in Markham, Ontario, Canada to Grimsby, Ontario — about 50 miles away, reports Toronto Sun. The aircraft was a Piper PA-28 with Caribbean Flying Club Flight Instructor Ibrahim Kulom was at the controls. It was the plane’s first flight since a routine 100-hour inspection.
The Piper made it to an altitude of 2,000 feet about a minute after takeoff before the pilots switched its fuel flow from the left wing tank to the right wing tank. They noticed a slight imbalance in the fuel levels between the left and right tanks, but both were still full. Then, the engine began sputtering and losing power. What happened next was captured on Highway 407's traffic camera.
The pilots called in a mayday, and it didn’t take long before they realized that returning to Buttonville was not an option. Buttonville sits at an altitude of 650 feet above sea level, so at 2,000 feet above sea level the pilots had about 1,350 feet to work with. Not much when you don’t have power.
However, because they remembered their training, they were already scanning for possible landing spots. Kulom said that their choices were either buildings or Highway 407 below, and they went for the obvious choice. The pilots set the plane up to get the most distance out of its glide and turned towards the highway. Highway 407 is said to be always busy, but somehow they found a wide enough gap to safely land a plane.
With the plane set up for landing and the makeshift runway in sight, they tried to get the power back, but to no avail. As the video shows, Kulom landed towards Woodbine Avenue, about 1.5 miles from the airport.
He touched down like it was any other runway, and he even kept left to stay out of traffic. Not only were there no injuries, but the plane wasn’t even damaged.
Kulom recounted his experience to Ontario Provincial Police Sgt. Kerry Schmidt, and he didn’t skip a beat about making this a teachable moment.
He stressed the importance of keeping your head on a swivel, always looking for a safe place to land if something goes wrong. He also stressed the importance of setting up the plane to get its best glide, saving as much altitude as you can until you get to your chosen emergency landing spot.
Honestly, his advice is great for car drivers and motorcyclists, too. Always have a way out should things go south.
Mechanics on site found fuel to be flowing from both tanks, so it’s currently unclear why the engine lost power. Kulom said that they didn’t notice any problems during their run-up checks on the ground.
If you’re curious how they got the Piper off of the highway, they lifted it onto a flatbed and drove it back to the airport with a police escort in one piece.
Police do not plan on charging or fining the pilots. So it was a good day for everyone, all things considered.
I love to highlight displays of good airmanship when I can find them. They’re good teaching moments for learners — including myself — and they show that even a crappy situation in the air can have a good ending.
Kulom has three important words for all of the aviation enthusiasts out there: Aviate, navigate, communicate. Get the plane where it needs to go, then communicate. That’s the order of operations he says can help keep you safe. It is unknown if he was charged toll for the highway.