Another nightmare aircraft engine failure is making the rounds on aviation social media. This time the pilot at the controls has not much altitude or airspeed to work with. It’s almost the worst-case scenario, but thankfully everyone survives and the video serves as a lesson in handling emergencies.
This crash of a Cessna T210M happened on August 7, 2020, but it has gone viral again. It landed on the desk of Boeing 747 pilot Kelsey, who runs the 74 Gear YouTube channel. Kelsey’s channel is all about aviation and educating people about flying. He also breaks down aviation incidents and bad TikToks. This time, a video by the Mikesell Family YouTube channel shows how pilot Shadrach Feild handled an engine problem with a full plane of six people.
The video starts by showing the family going out for a fun day of flying through the Uinta Mountains in Utah. Their day would take a turn while Feild flew low and slow over Moon Lake, a reservoir sitting at 8,100 ft mean sea level (msl).
Feild gave a breakdown in his own video, where he explains that he first lowered the landing gear and extended the flaps to help slow the Cessna down for its descent over the lake. During the descent, the aircraft flew into a strong headwind, and Feild responded with the application of throttle. Unfortunately, the engine didn’t respond.
As Kelsey notes, Feild was now in a tough spot. In an engine-out emergency you could trade airspeed and altitude to get yourself down to a safe landing. You could also glide long enough to give you time to work out a plan and a checklist. But Feild had neither speed nor altitude to work with.
The lake, a beach and sagebrush all offered places to land. Feild explains that there were people on the beach and he feared that the plane would flip over in the sand. So he briefly retracted the flaps and gear then aimed for the sagebrush.
To get there, Feild says that he slowed the aircraft until the stall horn sounded, then rode that horn down to the ground. The aircraft entered a stall just over the brush and crashed. Feild says that the plane left just 10 feet of skid marks behind it, illustrating how much the plane fell like a rock.
Feild and his front seat passenger Gentry Mikesell both received severe injuries. Mikesell got the worst, receiving a list of injuries including his back, pelvis and face. Feild also got a broken back. The other passengers also had some broken bones. Thankfully, everyone survived and made a recovery.
Kelsey is right that this pilot had mere seconds to react, and it’s easy to judge from an armchair. Instead, this is a moment for pilots to learn from. And even though the plane crashed, everyone got out alive. So, props to Feild for giving everyone a largely happy ending.
One thing you’re constantly taught in training is how to handle an engine-out situation. Your instructor as well as learning resources will tell you to pitch the aircraft for its best glide speed. To do this, you’ll be trimming the nose down, not pulling up and riding near a stall. It looks scary, but it’ll net you the best distance for the altitude you have left.
This graphic gives a good illustration for why you want to pitch for your aircraft’s best glide.
And it’s not just distance. Ride the stall horn and you may not be able to roll out on landing to arrest your high vertical speed.
This aircraft’s Pilot’s Operating Handbook recommends an 80-knot emergency landing approach speed and gear up for soft or rough terrain.
In this scenario, the Cessna was flying way slower than recommended. And worse, as Kelsey notes, the aircraft was banking just feet from the ground. Banking reduces lift, which is something you don’t want to lose when you’re already going so slow, so low.
It’s also notable that neither front seat occupants were wearing shoulder belts, which likely made their injuries worse. Seat belts and shoulder harnesses are pre-takeoff checklist items (and even show up twice on my own checklist), so they should have been belted up. The Federal Aviation Administration continues to investigate the crash.
The takeaway here is that if you get into a terrible situation like this, pitch the aircraft for its best glide. You also want to make sure that everyone is properly buckled in. And still, even if you miss a couple of things in the limited time that you have to react, you can still survive what seems like a worst-case scenario.