Tuesday, 15 June 2010

An interesting landing

I had lunch with an interesting French guy a couple of days ago. Although Pierre Lainey no longer does any flying he's done more than most and paid for all of his 6,000 hours. He's taken part in the Paris-Peking Rally, crossed the Atlantic and flown the length of Africa. By the time we'd got to the main course a couple of fellow diners had persuaded him to talk about his most 'interesting' aviation exploit which happened when on the way back to France from Montreal in a four-seat homebuilt.

At FL150 and while over Greenland the engine stopped. There was no warning, no sign of impending failure just silence and a windmilling propeller. Pierre flew the aeroplane while his co-pilot, the aircraft's builder tried whatever he could think of to get it going again. Inevitably as they lost altitude they went into the undercast. Pierre explained that when it became clear they might not break cloud before getting to the ground he trimmed for minimum control speed and concentrated on keeping the wings level. The first sign of them being close to the ground was when the prop stopped windmilling and broke thanks to ground contact. Apparently the contact with the snow was quite gentle and soon there was only silence and stillness. With zero visibilty there was no way of knowing if they were on flat ground or perched on a precipice and when they fist moved outside the first steps were tentative.

Pierre had put out a mayday call on the way down. This had been acknowledged, but on the ground he no longer had two-way contact with Sondrestrom. An overflying airliner relayed their exact position and Pierre's wife (who was also at the meal) was telephoned by search and rescue in Greenland and asked what the crew had in the way of survival equipment. Later that day a tent and supplies were dropped (it happened in June, so there was pretty much permanent daylight). and the pair spent the night under cover before being picked up the next day by a Twin Otter on skis.

The aeroplane was recovered, repaired and is now in different hands and flying from Rouen.

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