|Mechanical problems cause emergency landing in field; trio walks away
Barbara Beckner of Bull Domingo Ranch knew there was something wrong when she spotted a turbo-charged Cessna 210 soar low over her house in absolute silence at about 5 p.m. on Saturday, July 25. The pilot, Lee Roy Hoskins, from Port Aransas, Texas, lost engine power when he was 14,000 feet above ground along the Sangre de Cristo mountain range on his way to Salida.
The skilled pilot was able to land the craft safely in the field and all aboard walked away.
With Hoskins were friends Richard Vickery and Bubba Buckner, also from Texas. They made the journey from near Port Aransas to visit Bubba’s home in Salida, as well as give Hoskins a chance to look at local real estate.
“When I picked Richard up,” Hoskins said about how the trip began, “I noticed my manifold pressure fluctuating, which is usual, but it caught my attention.”
When they made a fuel stop in Midway, Texas, Hoksins saw that his manifold pressure had gradually decreased.
He had the airport call in a mechanic, thinking that the plane had a turbo charging problem. However, the mechanic deemed it flyable and instead changed the oil.
“We took off and the manifold pressure came up like it should,” Hoskins said. “We had already passed over the Wet Mountain Valley and were above the smaller end of the Sangre de Cristos, toward the south, when I started setting up to approach Salida.”
Twenty-five miles out, already over the ridge, Hoskins lost the engine.
He had just switched fuel tanks a couple minutes prior, which can sometimes trap air and stop an engine, so he switched it back. Still, the engine remained quiet.
“We began sinking at a rate of 600 to 700 feet a minute,” Hoskins said. “When that plane loses power, it drops like a rock. I knew I would run out of air before getting to Salida, plus it was very rugged terrain, so I hoped to get to the SilverWest Airport in Westcliffe. I turned around.”
Vickery, also a pilot, was in the right seat, and began to help Hoskins look for a place to land in case they didn’t make it to the airport. Vickery was very much aware of Buckner in the backseat panicking.
“I kept telling him, ‘Bubba, shut up, just shut up Bubba,’” Vickery laughed. “But Isaac (Newton) was right, gravity works.”
The Cessna sank from 14,000 feet to ground level within five minutes.
“The whole time I was doing the engine restart procedure,” Hoskins said. “I even got out the manual. The whole time as I was descending, I was also looking for a spot to land. I’ve been flying for 40 years and have been trained to handle that type of situation, so I wasn’t scared.”
Hoskins spotted a dirt road and aimed for that. But they were sinking too fast, and didn’t quite make it.
“We spotted a pasture that didn’t have ravines or cross fences that we could see,” Hoskins said. “I didn’t put my gear or flaps down, or anything that would have caused my sink rate to increase, so I waited to drop the gear just as I got to the ground. I knew it would be rough terrain, but I was still surprised.”
Beckner watched the plane soar over her barn and scoot across a bumpy pasture as it landed. “It came over my property,” she said. “I worried it would hit the new T-posts we installed.”
Beckner’s place, where she lives with her husband Ron, is off Copper Gulch Road. It is a wide-open area, mostly flat, without a lot of trees. “I could see the plane wouldn’t make the road, so it turned and went northbound,” she said. “It landed and stopped on my neighbor’s property, Todd and Michelle Bell’s place.”
As Beckner observed the plane, she knew it was experiencing mechanical problems. “The plane wasn’t making any noise,” she said. “It was very quiet. It was obvious to me it had to land. I saw no flames or smoke, but I knew the plane was having issues.”
From her vantage point, the plane landed smoothly. “It was a great landing on Lee Roy’s part,” she said. “The tire tracks go through a grassy area in an even, straight line.”
Beckner ran out into the field to make sure the pilot and his passengers hadn’t suffered any injuries. “I was happy to see them walk away from the plane,” she stated. “When I approached the pilot, I said to him that since my property is so long I always wanted to put in a landing strip.” Beckner laughed. “He told me, ‘Well, we’ve got it started for you.’”
Beckner was amazed that, within minutes and after a few phone calls, the stranded Texans were hooked up with local people who responded immediately.
Beckner and her husband called Gary Stamm of Search and Rescue, who called Bob Koester from B & D Auto and also a pilot, who contacted Johnny Smith, another pilot and Beckner’s neighbor. It ended with Stamm going to Nacho Mama’s and fetching Shane Dean, who is a plane mechanic.
The plane has been since towed to Smith’s barn, where Dean has been working on it. Apparently the issue was the turbo-charger which is being replaced. The plane is expected to take off from a nearby roadway in the coming days.
Hoskins has flown a total of 2,200 hours, with experience flying bush and float planes, and has a multiple instrument rating. He explained that pilot experience is vital for a situation like that, and knew that he would be able to get them down safely.
“I think I’m an excellent pilot,” Hoskins said, “and I think that confidence keeps you cool in a stressful situation. I wasn’t worried and that made Richard and Bubba all the calmer too.”
Hoskins drills oil and gas wells for a living, and owns the Tarpon Hotel and the Tarpon Bar and Grill in Port Aransas.
“We went out to have a fun weekend,” Hoskins said. “It could have ended much differently.”
– J.E. Ward and Cyn Williams