Luck and Skill but no Miracle

General aviation (small airplanes) made a splash in the news recently, especially in LA, with the emergency landing of a Cessna 172 on a street in Huntington Beach, CA. The news was accompanied with dashcam and security video, as well as cellphone pictures of an airplane stopped in the middle of a street surrounded by surprised drivers, cyclists and pedestrians. The web and news outlets filled with titles like “Student Pilot Makes Miraculous Emergency Landing”.

As an instructor, I find nothing “miraculous” about this. The pilot showed good skill, along with some luck.

News reports tended to focus on three attributes of the pilot – female, Asian, and that she was a student pilot. Only the last has any bearing on the story and did increase many people’s perception of the “miracle” – someone in training had managed to land in an emergency without hurting herself or anyone else or even apparently damaging the plane.

It’s true that the ability to perform under the stress of a real emergency is not universal. However, every pilot, including student pilots, is required to demonstrate some proficiency in dealing with emergencies and setting up to land after an engine failure. The FAA training requirements for student pilots prior to solo to include
(11) Emergency procedures and equipment malfunctions;
(13) Approaches to a landing area with simulated engine malfunctions

This incident shows the pilot had been well trained and performed admirably – a testament to her skill and her instructor’s preparation. She communicated her situation to controllers, selected an available street and kept the aircraft under control to a good landing while avoiding a number or obstacles and vehicles.

But, there is always an element of luck. She had no control over the roads available to her, or to the amount of traffic on that road as she approached. If a few cars had turned onto the road she chose, the outcome might have been different.

My hope is that every pilot and student pilot could perform as well in the same situation. The only way is through ongoing practice and preparation. Keep practicing.

4 thoughts on “Luck and Skill but no Miracle

  1. Dave, I understand from listening to LiveATC that she was doing a supervised solo with her instructor on the field using the shorter runway 20L to make laps around the east (LEFT) side of the airport. That said, how in the world did she cross over the extended centerline of the longer runway 20R that is generally used by airlines and end up several miles from and to the southwest or RIGHT side of the airport?

    Something doesn’t add up.

    • I agree there are a number of questions about what lead to the decision to land on a street. I haven’t seen the track or the communications prior to the Mayday. You have a good source for that? Since there isn’t an NTSB case we may never get more information.

      • Hi, if you send me an email, I’ll reply with the audio in MP3 format.

        It includes 30 minutes of clearance, ground, tower and approach that sometimes conflict, but most of it is there. She does a lap with her instructor on board, who goes from tower to ground to coordinate being dropped off at Juliet (approach end of 20L and 20R), and then the student is talking to tower and, presumably, takes off.

        Later, there is some discussion about a “crosswind” toward the HB Pier, 5-6 miles southwest of the field. If you look at a chart, you can see that doesn’t make a lot of sense.

        At some point, you hear her her mayday calls and indication of an emergency landing, and tower telling her to put it down where ever she can.

        Near the end of the recording, tower enlists the aid of some aircraft to pickup the instructor and ultimately passes along words that the student is OK.

        I could be wrong I suppose, but my interpretation is that she got completely flummoxed, but otherwise had an operating aircraft.

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