Skylane 250CW, cleared to land, runway two seven.” Those words marked the start of my anniversary weekend in historic Savannah, Ga. The VFR flight to Savannah from Lawrenceville, Ga., on the morning of August 1, 2008, was smooth and uneventful, as was my first-time arrival into Savannah International Airport. Plane parked and rental car obtained, my wife and I headed off to the resort.
Two mornings later, we were back at the airport for our return flight. With flight planning, weather briefing and preflight checks completed, I started the engine and attempted contact with clearance delivery. No response. Called again. No response. After several more attempts, I switched to the second radio and tried again. Still, no response. I shut the engine down and started radio diagnostics, then switched to ground and asked for radio checks—no response. Turns out, there was a mic jack issue on the pilot side, so I plugged my headset into the copilot jacks and used the copilot mic button for communications—it was a little awkward, but workable. Maybe this was a sign, but I wasn’t listening. After forgetting to flip the frequency back to clearance delivery, I mistakenly asked ground for a clearance: “Guess you haven’t talked to clearance delivery yet?” was the stern but friendly reply. I should have seen this as sign number two.
Soon, we were on our way home. While climbing to 4,500 feet, we flew through a hazy white-out in “clear below 12,000” conditions. Missed another sign—number three.
|DISTRESS NO MORE. GA’s flexibility and accessibility can make it an indispensable resource in an emergency.|
Conditions improved and we were halfway home when I felt a tap on my shoulder. I looked over to see an expression of distress. “I think you need to land,” my wife said calmly, followed by, “Where are the airsick bags?” Sign number four, and I knew that I’d better listen this time. On the flight following frequency, I called up Augusta Approach and notified them of a medical situation and that I needed to divert to the nearest airport, which I had identified on the GPS as Kaolin Field in Sandersville, Ga. Approach concurred with my choice and proceeded to give me full information about this airport and immediate vectors. They offered to have an ambulance waiting and stayed with me until the airport was in sight.
Here’s a lesson on not completely trusting the reported weather: I did get the AWOS from Kaolin Field, but on short final, it became evident that the winds reported had changed dramatically, and I was blown way off-course. Upon recovering, and because I was unfamiliar with the runway, I made the difficult decision to go around. (I needed to get down quickly but didn’t want the ambulance to be for both of us.) I finally landed into the wind after the go-around, and an ambulance arrived shortly thereafter. We were soon making our way to Sandersville Regional Hospital.
We were given immediate attention. The staff’s care was outstanding, but the kindness, friendliness and southern hospitality were just as notable.
With my wife stabilized (suspected kidney stone), I began thinking of getting home (either a 3.5-hour drive or the remaining 45 minutes of our flight). She felt well enough to fly, so we pondered how we would get to the airport. Not to worry, the ER nurse told us. The charge nurse had gone home for the day but was heading back to the hospital to take us to the airport. Wow!
Initial checks from Lawrenceville indicated good visibility, ceilings and winds for a VFR approach. Unfortunately, I still couldn’t get a break: Upon arrival, the winds shifted to 340 at nine knots. On final, the beads of sweat running down my face were as much from the landing as the day’s heat. Bank into the wind, left rudder, light touchdown on the right main and we’re “home.”
My wife is doing fine, and this experience helped boost my confidence in my emergency flying abilities. Thanks to my flight instructor for the many times we practiced emergency procedures and crosswind landings, and for the admonition to continue practicing regularly.
One final note: The time between my wife indicating that we needed to land and our ER arrival was less than 30 minutes. That wouldn’t have been possible if we had been driving or on a commercial flight. GA came through for us, as did ATC and the availability of small GA airports.
We had an adventurous and, dare I say, exciting weekend that we’ll never forget. We experienced it all: pleasure, pain and southern hospitality.
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