'Find a field': Young pilot ditches light plane near homes
A 20-year-old Buderim man who safely ditched a light plane which lost power about 300m above Caloundra with a trainee pilot alongside him says it was like the "completion of the drill".
Samson Byrne said he had trained extensively for the scenario he and a 29-year-old doctor from Mackay faced on Thursday afternoon, but it had been a surreal experience to carry out a forced landing close to houses in the Baringa suburb of Caloundra South.
Senior paramedics had described Mr Byrne and the student as lucky to walk away from the crash, but Mr Byrne said luck played only a small part in the dramatic landing.
The Inspire Aviation senior instructor, who had served as temporary chief flying instructor for Recreational Aviation Australia, said he had spent countless hours preparing for a forced landing situation and practised the scenarios "every other day".
About 2.15pm Thursday Mr Byrne and the student had taken to the skies above Caloundra Aerodrome for what was supposed to be an hour-long training exercise.
It was part of the last few hours of the student's training before he could fly solo.
Mr Byrne said they would normally complete six to eight circuits in the hour period, but the pair didn't even complete their first on Thursday.
A mechanical failure cut power to the plane in mid-air, the cause of which was still under investigation.
Mr Byrne said it took a few seconds to confirm there was a serious problem with the single-engine, 1980 Beechcraft Skipper.
The student pilot remained in control while Mr Byrne undertook a series of troubleshooting exercises to try and restart the engine over a space of about 15 seconds.
Unable to restart the engine, Mr Byrne took control of the plane, with the pair now left with about 600ft (182m) between their aircraft and the ground.
Mr Byrne said the aircraft descended at a glide rate of about 800-900ft a minute, leaving them less than a minute to plot a path to safety, as they glided at speeds of about 117km/h.
"What's the best place to put the aeroplane?" Mr Byrne said was his main thought, as he scanned their surrounds for an emergency landing site.
Returning to the aerodrome was out of the question, their circuit having been pushed wider early to give right of way to faster aircraft for landing meant they didn't have enough height to turn and make it to the airfield.
Mr Byrne said he had a narrow window to position the plane, acutely aware of the housing estate below him and the thick tree line of the undeveloped section of the Caloundra South estate.
He described his options as "houses, field or trees".
Mr Byrne was able to guide the plane down into a heavily-grassed field next to Aura Blvd, landing in line with the ruts he could see from above.
But the terrain on the ground was rougher than could be made out from the air.
Mr Byrne, a Buderim resident and pilot of five years, said it was "automatic" instinct to keep the nose up as long as he could to prevent the plane from flipping.
He said he had lowered it as much as possible in the final 30m of the approach to create as much friction with the plane and the ground, as they only had about 250m of open space to work with before they reached the tree line.
Luckily his instincts, honed by constant training, proved correct, as the thick grass slowed the plane up.
The plane ended up spinning 180 degrees, after Mr Byrne said he believed the main left wheel caught at the end, which helped pull the plane up in time for the pair to walk out unscathed.
Mr Byrne said it was a surreal experience, but he felt in control throughout, as he followed his comprehensive training procedures and protocols.
"We call it a forced landing for a reason," he said.
"Control was maintained the whole time. Our outcomes are a lot more controlled.
"Ninety-nine per cent was training, planning and execution. That was the desired outcome (from the moment the engine failed)."
Mr Byrne said it was a "spontaneous failure" that happened in mechanical equipment, but being a plane, there was no simple pullover to the side of a road.
"It's find a spot and land," he said.
He described his trainee pilot as a "model student" who'd kept composed throughout.
"There's obvious relief (when they both hopped out)," he said.
"The whole situation feels surreal. It's not a daily occurrence.
"You've just got to follow the steps. It is like the completion of the drill."
A tradesman was first on the scene, rushing over from the housing estate being developed to check on the pair.
"He came over and said 'are you guys all right?'," Mr Byrne said.
"Yeah mate, we're all good," was the reply.
Only half an hour before the crash Mr Byrne had been doing his instructor proficiency check in the same plane without an issue with an examiner on board.
He was back in the air just hours after the crash, having debriefed back at the airfield before taking his dad on a flight.
Inspire Aviation head of operations and chief flying instructor Gleyn White said Mr Byrne had done a "really good job" to avoid a much more serious incident, and had kept the plane straight and nose raised with skill during the landing.
"He did an absolutely fantastic job," Mr White said.
Mr Byrne suffered minor lacerations from the crash, while the trainee pilot was taken for observation for minor back pain and later cleared of any injury.