Pilot Learned Lesson in Crash: Walked Away Bruised
Bob Carpenter knows now that he should have drained the fuel tank of his plane to make sure it really did hold 29 gallons.
Carpenter's 1970 Thorp T18 ran out of gas about seven miles short of his destination in Ohio on Jan. 10 and crashed into some trees.
He survived the crash, suffering only some bad bruising.
A partner at Big Sky Construction in Pinehurst, Carpenter said he expects to be back up in the air piloting a plane soon. He is a flight instructor and said he now has a real-life example to share with new pilots on how emergency procedures can save lives.
Carpenter said that he bought the airplane, which unlike most planes had only one tank, last year. He had been flying the single-engine plane around Moore County's skies, checking the fuel consumption.
Carpenter figured that the plane was burning about 7.8 gallons of fuel per hour. When he bought the plane, he was told it held 29 gallons, which would give him a little less than four hours of flight on a full tank.
On Jan. 10, he was going to fly the plane to the Portage County Airport in Ravenna, Ohio, to have some maintenance done. He wanted the air conditioning fixed. He planned to leave the plane there and fly back to North Carolina with a friend an hour after landing.
Carpenter had filed a flight plan to cruise at 5,000 feet, but eventually went up to 9,000 to avoid some bad weather. As he approached the airport, he descended to 2,800 feet.
As he leveled off, he went to increase the RPMs to maintain altitude. Nothing happened. Minutes later, he began to lose power.
Carpenter radioed the airport to say that he wasn't going to make it and was going to find a field to put down in. He found one to the east.
"It looked like I could make it," he said.
He turned toward the field, steadily losing altitude. If he could make it to the field, he said he could land safely. But his plane was dropping faster than he had expected. He realized he wasn't going to make it.
"If I had another 40 feet, I could have cleared the trees," Carpenter said.
Carpenter decided to try a stall maneuver. Just before he struck the trees, he pulled back on the stick, kicking the plane's nose into the air. It was all part of the emergency procedures, Carpenter said, which were all he could think about.
The move slowed the plane and stalled it. It dropped like a rock from about 35 to 40 feet above the ground. The side of the aircraft banged into a tree.
The force jostled Carpenter, causing him to bang his right shoulder and the back of his head on the right side of the cockpit.
The nose of the plane and the left wing were now angled down. The plane skidded down the side of the tree. It struck the ground nose first and Carpenter banged his head on the front of the canopy.
"I never lost consciousness," he said.
Carpenter said his first thought was to get out of the plane as quickly as possible. He looked around briefly for his cell phone but couldn't find it.
The crash had blown out the windshield, so Carpenter gathered his flight bag and climbed out over the nose. He checked the front and back of his head and found that he was bleeding in both places. He pulled on a knit cap to keep his head warm.
"My coat was actually hanging in the tree," he said. "It was good because it was windy, cold and snowy."
He went to a nearby home and knocked on the door. After he waited for several knocks, a man answered the door and told him to come in.
Carpenter said that the woman at the home, who was interviewed on local television about the crash, continued her phone conversation while he sat waiting. She eventually dialed 911 and handed him the phone.
He found out later that air traffic control had called for emergency responders before he had actually crashed.
Edinburg Township Fire and Rescue took Carpenter to Robinson Memorial Hospital in Ravenna. Other than a bruise that goes from his shoulder to his elbow, Carpenter said that he is pretty much recovered.
"Other than soreness, I feel fine," he said. "I've really been pretty lucky."
Knowing what to do in an emergency helped him.
"You do a lot of training for emergency situations," he said. "It helped increase my chances of survival."
The plane crash hasn't dampened his enthusiasm for air travel.
The next day, he let his friend fly him back to North Carolina. He has a trip planned in early February and hopes to fly a friend's plane.
He said that the next time he is giving a course on engine-out procedures, he's going to draw from this experience.
"It comes down a little bit faster than you trained for," he said.
Matthew Moriarty can be reached at 693-2479 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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