Joined: Tue Aug 26, 2008 7:12 am
|http://www.am980.ca/channels/news/local ... ID=1739353
Pilot Recounts Miraculous Plane Landing on Highway 402 in Pitch Black
The pilot who managed to safely land a small plane on the 402, east of Sarnia, says he wasn't scared, and never considered the possibility his dangerous descent could end in disaster.
62-year-old Leo Arseneau of Sudbury is speaking publicly about his hair raising journey for the first time in an exclusive interview with AM980.
Arseneau, and four family members - including his wife, son, and grandson - had left Oshawa early Friday evening, and started noticing problems just 20 minutes outside Sarnia around 9 p.m.
"It was an electrical failure, which started the whole problem. The electrical failure caused the gear failure, because the gear initially requires electricity to come down."
An emergency system, however, allowed Arseneau to bring all three landing gears down, and the plane continued towards Chris Hadfield Airport in Sarnia.
It would turn out to be the first of several challenges Arseneau faced while trying to safely land the single-engine Piper Lance aircraft.
The next issue was darkness.
"At night, everything looks like a runway." Arseneau said.
"The roads look like runways, plowed fields look like runways. I'd landed there a number of times before, and I knew from my charts where it was - approximately - but without the precision of the instruments you can't go to the point. There was no one to call at the airport to assist, and so we started looking for the airport - but we just couldn't find it."
Under normal circumstances, runway lights are activated by instruments onboard an aircraft. In the case of Arseneau's plane, dealing with an electrical failure, that wasn't an option. Making matters worse, he said, was the lack of a back-up system at the airport.
"The problem with Sarnia airport, it doesn't have a beacon. Apparently it had one some years ago, but it doesn't anymore - and I don't understand why."
Unable to determine exactly where the airport was, Arseneau got in touch with air traffic control who advised him to try landing at Windsor or London International Airport instead.
That's when another problem emerged.
"The fuel gauges were showing completely empty." he said.
"They had a little bit left when I was circling the airport, but then they were completely empty. At that point, doubt is starting to creep in - is there some kind of a fuel leak?"
Arseneau decided he could not risk a flight to Windsor or London, and had to do his best to bring the plane down as fast as he could.
It was 10 p.m.
"I saw what was a four lane highway going west, and in my mind I'm thinking 'this must be the 402.' Just as I turned towards the 402, the engine sputtered pretty badly. The airplane has two tanks, it pumps the fuel up so you have to use one tank - and you can go back and forth. So, immediately I switched tanks - and it lasted for 10 or 15 seconds, and it sputtered badly as if it was going to die. I had to make a decision, so I decided to land on this nice long runway, which was the 402."
Already dealing with electrical failures, gear failures, no fuel, and just beginning to attempt a risky landing on a busy highway, Arseneau was faced with yet another challenge - this one, quite literally, unforeseen.
"You couldn't see initially, but there was an overpass there. So when I saw the overpass, I was getting closer to it, and I had to decide whether I was going to go over it, or under it." he said.
Arseneau decided to go over it.
"I managed to get over an overpass that was kind of in my way, and landed without any landing lights. I was able to gauge where the middle of the road was, approximately, from looking at the cars that were down the road about half a mile or so. Fortunately, there were no cars beneath me, or in front of me, so when I landed - I wasn't in any danger of hitting anyone."
The plane safely landed with neither himself, nor his family any worse for wear - the drama didn't end there.
"We scrambled out of the airplane, because now we're sitting on the 402. The road is only 24 feet wide - the airplane is over 33 feet wide. So I moved it over as far as I could to the left without going into the ditch. Then we scrambled out of the airplane, got everybody out safely. Then my son and I ran down the highway, trying to stop vehicles. Three or four vehicles went by, including a transport truck - and (amazingly) he never touched the airplane."
A passing van, however, did - clipping the right wing tip. Luckily, no one in the van was injured. Arseneau and his family were also well back of the plane at that point, and weren't harmed either. The van, and the plane's wing tip, though, did sustain some damage.
All westbound lanes of the 402 between Oil Heritage Road and Mandaumin Road were closed for several hours until the plane could be removed.
In the days since the near miraculous landing, Arseneau has had some time to reflect and says his reaction to the ordeal surprised him.
"I walked away from that aircraft, and in my mind - my heartbeat didn't go up a notch. No sweat, no nothing. I credit the training, I guess. I'm not a 'cool hand Luke' guy, so the training must've just taken over. I just focused on what I had to do to get the airplane down safely, if possible. I didn't give any thought to the possibility I'm going to die. It didn't really hit me until I landed, and I thought about it."
During the white knuckled descent, Arseneau's family members "weren't calm, but they weren't yelling" either, he said.
"I wasn't worried, I just thought I could get the plane down safely and it turns out I was right. But, let's hope I don't have to test those skills again." he chuckled.