Thursday, 10 October 2013

Britain was almost no longer a country for an old, novice small aircraft pilot called John Wildey

John, who is 77 years old, took off from Sandtoft Airfield, between Scunthorpe and Doncaster, in glorious sunshine on Tuesday morning with his friend, the pilot, in a Cessna 172 Skyhawk. They landed at Skegness, on the Lincolnshire coast, to stop at a small airfield for lunch. The two of them were due to return to Sandtoft shortly before 7pm, however, at about 6.15pm, the pilot fell seriously ill and began drifting in and out of consciousness. John later said :

"He said he was sick and asked me to take care of the aircraft controls. He set the controls and put me on the right path. Then he was unwell again, completely unresponsive. I called his name but he didn’t answer. I said we were going to have to land soon but when he didn’t respond......"

John :

* called “Mayday, Mayday, Mayday” and said : “I’ve got no flying experience and the pilot isn’t very well” and he " couldn’t control the aircraft" and thought he "was heading to Sandtoft."

* reached and circled around Sandtoft a few times and having watched the pilot bank, climb and descend using the steering column, had a notion of what some of the baffling array of dials and instruments in front of him did.

* was put through to the tower at Humberside International Airport, where flights were suspended or diverted as the runway was cleared for an emergency landing while a Sea King helicopter was scrambled from RAF Leconfield in East Yorkshire to fly alongside him to guide him on the 25-mile flight.

Meanwhile, Roy Murray, Chief Instructor at the airport’s Flying School  :

* was called at his home and told that John, with no flying experience, would need to be 'talked down'.

* fifteen minutes later, pulled up at the airport’s air traffic control tower, was taken straight to the radar room, spoke to John and told him to : "keep calm and not to over-control the aircraft."

* decided that the best option was to guide John in with a ‘blind landing’, in which he was told to ignore the bulk of the instruments, and use just three main controls: the throttle to lower the plane, the steering column to keep its nose up and the brakes to slow it down if, and when, he touched down successfully.

* later said : "All cockpits and controls are different and I didn’t want John looking around and panicking. It was tense at times, especially the last mile or so, as he was talked in."

* at around 7pm, as it was getting dark, saw John, who had been following the Sea King helicopter, come into view, flying without lights on outside or inside the cockpit.

* stressed to John to keep the nose up when touching down to avoid smashing the front landing wheel and impressed on him the need to steer the aircraft when braking, in case it veered off to one side, struck a landing light and punctured the fuel tank with the risk of fire.

John :

*  on three nerve-racking occasions  tried to touch down, before pulling back on the steering column to lift the plane up again, increasing the throttle to avoid stalling and swinging round to make another attempt.

 * later said: "I could see the runway lights. They said, “bring her down gently, take the throttle back.” and "I was doing that and it seemed to be all right but then they said I was going too low, power up and go, so I powered up and went round again."

* on the fourth attempt, was given the go-ahead and when he touched down "there was a right bump – two or three bumps. I suppose it was a controlled crash really. I just couldn’t get the brakes because I couldn’t reach them. I managed to get them in the end but then we sort of went off the runway and all I could see was this runway indicator wall coming towards me and I thought:  'I am not going to do it'. But we managed to stop in the end."

Roy said

: "The emergency services were there immediately and may have turned off the engine. When he landed, we all sort of shook hands and said “Thank God for that”.’ Miraculously, Mr Wildey emerged from the aircraft shaken but uninjured. An ambulance took the dying pilot to hospital. I’m satisfied but sad. There was a death involved. But, I’m satisfied because it could have been a lot worse. But, I can say that I wouldn’t be frightened to fly with John. He was very calm and in control.’

John :

* was described yesterday as a ‘hero’ for having kept his nerve during the traumatic incident, however, speaking from his home in Rossington, South Yorkshire, played down his role as "nothing really" and "air traffic control at Humberside, two flying instructors and also a Sea King helicopter were all helping. They all did their best, I was just the person holding the stick. They were telling me what to do but because I didn’t have any lights on, I could barely see any of the sticks, which made it even more difficult.’

Sadly, John's friend, the pilot died after being taken to hospital.

No comments:

Post a Comment