Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Aviation’s “Little” Emergencies

How to handle those in-flight problems that aren’t necessarily life threatening

I touched down as planned but rolled over the hump in runway 19, still pumping furiously, and started downhill on the other side with no brakes at all. The airplane wasn't slowing appreciably, and it was obvious I was going to roll off the end into the lava field.

Accordingly, I pushed power back up and went around, climbing back to about 300 feet over the water. The controller was understandably surprised and asked, "N400EX, what are you doing?" with a combination of irritation and confusion. I explained my problem and said I'd get back to him as soon as I could put together a plan B.

Finally, I elected to land as short as possible on the uphill runway 1 at absolute minimum speed and hoped I could simply roll to a stop before I topped the hump. If that didn't work, my last alternative would be to divert to the nearby air base at Keflavik where there's over 10,000 feet of runway. There was no one else on the 19 approach, so the controller approved my landing and called out the equipment.

The landing turned out to be a total anticlimax. The airplane slowed quickly on the slight upslope, and I was able to turn off at midfield without problems.

The following morning, the mechanics at Iceland Air quickly found what they thought was the problem, a leaking brake cylinder, repaired it, and I was able to depart for Kulusuk, Greenland, by noon. During the repair, one of the engineers suggested I climb into the airplane's right seat to see if those brakes were working properly. They were perfect, of course. Had I been smart enough to simply slide over to the right seat, the previous day's Reykjavik landing would have been far less dramatic.

As luck would have it, I lost the pilot's brakes again at Kulusuk, but now, I knew there was a good chance the right brakes would work just fine. They did. I slid across to the right seat, landed and flew the remainder of the trip thru Sondre Strom Fjord, Greenland; Iqaluit, Nunavut; Wabush, Labrador; Bangor, Maine and on to Phoenix from the right seat with no more problems.

If these "little" emergencies have anything in common, it's that they don't represent an immediate threat. They allow you some time to figure things out and decide on a rational solution. Just remember the first rule of emergency response, and you should be able to overcome most problems: Fly the airplane.


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