An East Texas pilot and his passenger made a scary but safe emergency landing, thanks to help from a nearby Flight For Life helicopter pilot.
Thursday evening, the landing gear of the pilot's Cessna 210 malfunctioned, leaving him stranded in the sky and anticipating a hard landing at Palestine Municipal Airport.
The shape the plane is in now hardly illustrates the gravity of the situation. Very few people, including pilot Jim Wells, expected the landing to go well.
"When the plane came down, it rolled to the left. The horizontal stabilizer has a wrinkle in the skin, and the elevator is damaged. Of course it has mud all under the under belly," said Jim.
As Jim headed for the runway, he braced himself and his passenger for the landing. Brandon Durrett, a helicopter pilot for Mother Frances Hospital, heard Jim's nervous voice over the radio.
"I said, 'Before you go land, let's go talk about it. Why don't you do a go-around-- meaning don't land. Come back out here and lets go talk about it. Let me look at your landing gear,'" said Durrett.
Brandon flew below the plane to get a good look. He said what he saw wasn't promising.
"I didn't want to tell him at the time, but it wasn't going to come down no matter what. I didn't want to tell him, but I knew it and I knew we needed to try anything we could," Durrett said.
The two talked through various maneuvers that might get the gear down and Jim and his passenger back on the ground... that included a short nose dive.
"I told [the passenger], 'you're not going to like this' and she said, 'do what you've got to do,'" Jim said.
After an hour and a half of trying to get the landing gear down, Brandon and Jim agreed landing was the only option left. As the plane landed, its wing hit the ground and it ran off the runway.
Everyone watched, hoping to see the pilot and his passenger step out of the aircraft. They did. Neither was injured.
"They're my heroes. Those guys did a good job," Jim said of the Flight for Life crew.
"I told him everything I could. He already knew what he was doing. I was just there for moral support," said Brandon.
Now, two skid marks show the plane's path and where it ran off the runway. The FAA is investigating what caused the problem with the landing gear.
The Flight for Life helicopter pilot, Brandon Durrett, said he was merely paying it forward by helping out. He said the same thing happened to him ten years ago, and a stranger talked him through the dilemma over the radio.
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