“A few minutes from the airport, I was just sitting there thinking, ‘It just doesn’t get any better than this,’ when the left engine started backfiring and popping violently. I pulled the power back, and the cockpit went completely black with smoke. I started coughing and suffocating, feeling helpless right away. I was probably between 1,000 and 1,500 feet, just trying to make sure I kept the green stuff on the bottom side. I didn’t want this thing upside down [and hitting] the dirt at 300 miles an hour.
I popped the canopy, and immediately it was clear again. I looked out the left-hand side and there was a hole about the size of a saucer with a very intense fire, like a miniature afterburner, poking out the top of that cowling. I literally watched the scoop on top of the engine melt down. I immediately cut the fuel off; shutting the engine down, hoping the fire would go down. It did not.