Traverse City News and Events

FAA: Mechanical Issue Forced NMC Plane Landing

By Beth Milligan | May 12, 2022

A mechanical issue with an NMC plane forced an aviation student and flight instructor to make an emergency landing at the Grand Traverse County Civic Center Tuesday, according to a fact-finding investigation by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

The student and flight instructor were on a routine training flight aboard an NMC-owned 2010 Cessna 172 Skyhawk from Traverse City to Pellston, then to Gaylord and back to Traverse City Tuesday. Weather, fuel and all other conditions were normal and the plane was cleared for landing by air traffic control at Traverse City Cherry Capital Airport about 10 miles out. Upon the final approach at 5pm, the flight instructor noticed a loss of RPM and immediately took control of the aircraft. The aircraft engine started to choke and lose power. During this time, the flight instructor went through the emergency checklist, alerted the control tower and looked for the safest place to make an emergency landing. 

The instructor located an open field at the Civic Center and flew the aircraft away from the people. The instructor landed the aircraft about 250 feet from a baseball backstop fence, which absorbed the energy from the landing. The airbags deployed and the seat belts restrained the pilot and student, neither of whom experienced significant injury. The aircraft did not bounce, but the impact did damage the right side of the plane. Two bystanders helped the student and instructor from the aircraft. No one on the ground was injured. "All of this took place in a matter of seconds," according to an NMC release.

FAA representatives arrived at the scene Wednesday morning for fact finding. Investigators determined that the incident was not caused by pilot error but a single, anomalous mechanical issue. While the FAA has wrapped up its fact finding, the full investigation may take several weeks to complete. "The FAA believes the pilot did everything right and made the best choice possible," according to the release. "The FAA will continue looking for the exact cause. Once determined, the FAA will turn over the report to the National Transportation Safety Board for analysis. That report could take more than a year. Damage to the aircraft and all related expenses will be covered by insurance."

NMC performs regular maintenance on its aircraft. The plane involved in the incident received maintenance last week and was signed off to fly. It had flown approximately three hours without incident since it was released from maintenance. Following a voluntary safety standdown, the rest of the NMC fleet was cleared for flying at 11am Thursday. "NMC plans additional safety training with students and flight instructors, as well as offering counseling for anyone who wants it," according to the release. "Both the flight instructor and the student are taking some time to recover from this harrowing experience. The flight instructor was also on the side of the plane that received the most damage and is sore. NMC is respecting their request to have their identities remain private."

NMC's Director of Aviation Alex Bloye says that "because of the pilot’s quick thinking and solid training, we are so grateful that no one was injured. The number one thing we teach our aviation students is to fly the airplane. That’s exactly what our pilot did here. The flight instructor was able to keep control of the aircraft and respond to the situation, not just react." 

Photo credit: Michael Poehlman

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