A PILOT was forced into a daring emergency landing when his plane’s engine stopped in mid-air shortly after he took off from a North East airfield.
Bill Stewart, from Cramlington in Northumberland, realised all was not well with his Rans Coyote light aircraft when he took off from Eshott Airfield, north of Morpeth, in February
The plane’s one engine failed while Mr Stewart and co-owner James Kirtley were 200 feet in the air.
But instead of trying to land the plane straight ahead, as is recommended, Mr Stewart performed a 180-degree turn, followed by a crash landing on a grass airstrip.
The nose wheel of the aircraft was damaged but officials from the Air Accident Investigation Branch (AAIB) said the pair were lucky to be alive.
Mr Stewart, a 64-year-old former policeman who is a grandfather-of-five, said: “I have been flying for 20 years and this is something that you practise. Unfortunately on this occasion it was the worst possible time – we were just taking off. There was no runway in front of us and we had to go back. We were 200ft in the air and the engine just died. I tried to restart but it just wouldn’t.”
Mr Stewart, who got his pilot’s licence in 1991, acted quickly, knowing the airspeed the plane had gathered gave them just moments to make the ground safely.
“You don’t have time to think, especially at that height,” he said. “It was only seconds and I made the decision to turn back.
“I realised that we weren’t going to make the runway and I opted for a different runway, a grass runway, but unfortunately by the time we reached it we were very, very low.
“We had run out of airspeed. We landed heavy and damaged the nose wheel.”
The two pilots had been planning to take one of their regular sightseeing trips.
The plane, which he shares ownership of with fellow Northumbrian Flying Club members Mr Kirtley and David Leslie, has been repaired and the accident has not deterred his passion for flying.
He said: “I do it for the exhilaration and the freedom. It is more the money that we lost and we didn’t get a good fly in that day. Normally we would fly over to Durham or Carlisle.”
Mr Stewart’s wife Aileen, a retired postmistress, said she never worries about her husband. She said: “He rang me and said he had come down heavy. I know that he can look after himself.”
The AAIB commended Mr Stewart’s skill and experience in avoiding a fatal crash.
A report reads: “The engine failure occurred at a critical stage of flight.
“The success of the manoeuvre was probably due to the pilot’s experience and familiarity with the aircraft and airfield, together with relatively benign weather conditions and favourable airfield layout.”
The report adds: “Previous experience has shown that a number of attempted turn-backs have resulted in loss of control, normally due to decayed airspeed, with sometimes fatal outcomes.
“In all but exceptional circumstances, the safest course of action following an engine failure immediately after takeoff is to land straight ahead, maintaining airspeed and turning only as much as may be required to avoid obstacles.”