Crash landingPublished 11:37am Friday, April 12, 2013
Florida-bound personal plane from Nashville, Tenn., plummets into Kellyton pasture
Travel plans were up in the air for Bill and Jean Scott – until fuel flow problems forced an immediately landing of their airplane.
“We were going from here in Tennessee to Lakeland, Fla. to the air show,” Bill said in a phone interview Thursday from his Tennessee home. “We’ve made that trip to Florida before in this airplane.”
Bill has made a number of trips in airplanes – the 80-year-old took flying lessons as a gift from his wife, in his 50s.
“Flying is a little bit like motorcycling or snowmobiling,” Bill said. “It’s your thing … if you enjoy operating your own equipment, it’s very nice.”
Bill said they make a number of trips up north – to Michigan, Chicago, New Jersey and Minneapolis – to visit family. Monday’s trip, however, didn’t match up with the flight plan.
In a pasture off Tankersley Road, Rodger Ballard and his granddaughter were checking on Ballard’s cows when they noticed a low-flying plane.
“She said, ‘That plane’s going down,’” Ballard said.
They watched the plane come down, over a hill and out of sight.
“We tore out over there, and we saw it up on its nose,” Ballard said.
Bill said he had realized they were having fuel problems.
“I measured the fuel before we took off … I thought I had plenty of fuel,” Bill said.
He didn’t give much credence to warnings from the fuel gauges, not trusting their accuracy, but he finally decided to head for the Alexander City airport to get it checked out. Then the engine started causing problems.
“The engine quit a couple times – started up again and quit again,” Bill said. “Finally it quit.”
Although Bill said he could see the airport runway, their landing spot was to be more humble – Ballard’s cow pasture.
The only problem was the cows.
“The cows were blocking the very best of fields to land in,” Bill said with a laugh. “We didn’t want to hit a cow.”
So after managing to avoid the cows as well as the woods and the power lines, the Scotts managed to come in for a landing – the nose gear and other parts of the plane.
“I’d never experienced anything like that before, and I hope I never do again,” Ballard said. “They were mighty lucky.”
When Ballard and his granddaughter reached the plane, Bill had already climbed out. Ballard said he helped Jean – who had a skinned leg – out of the plane and loaded them up into his Ranger.
Jean told Ballard the care they had taken to avoid the cows.
“I told Mrs. Scott, I would have been crying if she’d hit my cows,’” Ballard said with a laugh.
Jolene Ballard was at the house when Rodger, his granddaughter and the Scotts came rolling up – and then the story had to be told.
“It scared her,” Rodger said. “They were just sitting down for dinner when we came in. She didn’t eat anything else.”
The Scotts put in a call to the Federal Aviation Administration, ate lunch with the Ballards and then took a rental car back home to Nashville. A recovery company picked up the plane Tuesday.
“This is referred to in FAA as an incident, not an accident,” Rodger said. “The plane is apparently very reparable.”
But that’s not the end of the story. The Scotts may have lost a trip to the Florida air show, but they gained new friends in the Ballards – as Bill put it, the “nicest bunch of people a person could ever want to meet.”
“They just dropped out of the sky, and we just absolutely loved them,” Jolene said. “I’m really looking forward to us seeing them again.
Mark Humphreys contributed to this report.