Close Calls: Lucky to be Alive PDF Print E-mail
Written by Anthony Nalli   
Thursday, 24 February 2011 09:49
Our pilot lived in San Diego, Calif., in the early 1950s and spent his extra money feeding his Ryan PT-22 fuel. He worked the swing shift at Conair at the time, which gave him a lot of available time that he used for flying. Friends would say to him, “Next time you’re going flying on a nice day, I’d love to go.” If the weather was good and their schedule permitted, our pilot gave friends an open invitation to fly — all they had to do was call when they wanted to go.


One day, a co-worker did just that and they made plans to go for a ride the next day. The weather over San Diego was broken clouds with wind from the west at about 15 mph. It seemed perfect. Our pilot planned to go to Borrego Springs, Calif., in the desert just over the mountains. It would be a beautiful ride in a PT-22.


At the time, Borrego Springs was just starting to develop. The sales office even had a dirt runway at their site. Once you landed, the office would send a limousine to pick you up and bring you to the office where representatives would try to sell you a lot in the desert. After the two underwent the sales pitch, they had lunch at the restaurant. It was getting late so they hurried back to the airplane.


The mountains climb very fast when taking off from Borrego Springs. Our pilot didn’t want to be late for work so instead of climbing over Borrego for some altitude, he chose to fly up a wide canyon where he thought he could go into a gradual climb.


However, the mountains were climbing faster than the PT-22 could. The oil pressure was dropping and the cylinder temperature was redlining. Our pilot hugged the side of the canyon with hopes of making a 180-degree turn.


“I felt I could reach out and grab a handful of dirt and rock,” our pilot recalls. “Air speed was slowly disintegrating. I didn’t think I had enough room to do a 180. I had a little more throttle left and did a chandelle.


“I’m still here; it worked!” rejoices our relieved pilot. “I always wondered for what purpose those maneuvers were taught.” He continues, “Coming out of the 180, I could clearly see the small pebbles on the ground. At that point, there was a sigh of relief. My friend was not aware of any problems. I cautiously gained altitude to clear the mountains and now see scattered clouds. The closer I got to home, the less scattered they were and the tops were getting higher. Panic started to set in again.”


Our pilot, with map in hand, began to lose sight of land. Occasionally he would spot a hole in the clouds at about 7,000 feet. At the time he calculated that they should be just about over the airport, no such holes existed. If he couldn’t get down, they would be over the sea.


Just then, a small hole appeared in the cloud. Our pilot could see the airport from 7,000 feet. “I did a tight spiral, almost a spin down to 2,000 feet, hoping the clouds wouldn’t close up the hole and suck me in.”


“We made it. My friend Nelson couldn’t stop talking about the beautiful ride he had.” Our pilot concludes, “Nelson never knew there was a problem. After landing, my knees could not stop shaking. I never told Nelson the truth. Nelson from Detroit, if you read this, you are lucky to be alive.”


Fly safe(r).

From the May 2010 issue of Cessna Owner