Pilot happy to be alive
The pilot who crash-landed his Piper 181 single engine aircraft in an field at Ealing Grove, Christ Church yesterday after his engine lost power while on a practice flight, is counting his lucky stars.
The American-born Capt Richard Terrelonge left the Grantley Adams International Airport around 9 a.m. yesterday on what he described as a perfect day for flying. However, an hour later, while on his way back, signs of trouble began to emerge.
Speaking today from his Dover, Christ Church home, Terrelonge told Barbados TODAY he was happy to have escaped with his life, with only a few minor bruises to his head.
The American, who revealed that he was nervous throughout the ordeal, said the moment he realized something was wrong, he called on his training and more than 30 years of experience.
“If I had continued straight I would have went into the hill or houses. So I said ‘there is a farmers field over there, let me land there’. With aviation safety you never know until afterwards. It is a spilt second decision. You hope your training kicks in and you made the best possible decision,” he said.
Terrelonge, a major in the US Civil Air Patrol, said he performed an emergency checklist before beginning his final glide, only to notice electrical wires in the way. Fortunately, he had enough airspeed to get above them before landing.
“Just before touch down, I noticed the flaps were not extended and extended them again.Touchdown was nose high and the plane did a nice job at braking. Once the nose wheel touched, it dug in, causing the aircraft to flip.”
After landing, the pilot, whose face was pressed against the window screen, was beginning to consider how to get out when two men, Phillip Prescott of Providence, Christ Church, and Ronald Marshall, who lives near the field, ran over and helped drag him from the aircraft and took him to a nearby house where residents tended to his injuries until an ambulance arrived to transport him to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital.
Emergency personnel, including the Barbados Fire Service, police and Civil Aviation officials responded to the scene.
With his safety cap still on, Terrelonge said he spotted fuel dripping from the right side of the plane, causing him some concern.
“Aviation fuel is very flammable, but fortunately it didn’t [catch] afire and they got me away from the aircraft,” he said, noting that he had carried out all the necessary safety checks before he left for his morning’s journey.
The pilot described the men who went to his rescue as “magnificent”, particularly as it related to the risk they took.
“If it were me, knowing what I know about aviation fuel, I might not have gone near that aeroplane. If I saw fuel dropping out of an aeroplane I would be very nervous.
“These two gentlemen who came to help me did not hesitate one second, and they deserve all the thanks. The people at the house that washed off the bruise and stuff and called the ambulance were fantastic,” said Terrelonge, who is also qualified to do inland search and rescue.
Terrelonge explained that had he run into difficulty over Bridgetown, he would have been forced to take a different approach, since it would have been illegal to fly as low over the capital as he did near the airport.
“If I were in Bridgetown . . . and I would have realized I had a problem much higher and then I would have glided. And if you are going to glide into town, then you have Browne’s Beach and Pebbles beach, the Garrison Savannah and lots of different places,” he explained.
With the ordeal still fresh in his memory, Terrelonge said he was ready to get back into the cockpit. He thanked God, whom he said was always at his side whether in the air or on the ground.
Meanwhile, Phillip Prescott has seen many an activity on his farm, but nothing like what happened yesterday morning.
Prescott, 50, was at work on his Ealing Grove, Christ Church farm when Capt Terrelonge crash-landed his Piper PA 181 single engine plane on the farm.
The experienced farmer said he heard a rustling noise, and when he looked around, he saw the small plane about two feet above the ground, its engine silent.
“It [the plane] just quickly bypass me and I heard it rustling through the grass, and then I heard the tumbling and then it stopped,” he told Barbados TODAY.
Even though he was gripped by fear, Prescott said he immediately ran about 200 feet to the crashed plane, calling 211 in the process.
“When I approached the plane, I saw it had flipped over, and I saw the gentleman upside down and all of his face was covered with blood. All of this time I was giving details to the dispatcher as to exactly what was happening,” he recalled.
The farmer said he was soon joined by a nearby resident who helped him extract the pilot, who appeared somewhat disoriented.
“It felt rewarding to know that others see the same thing and ran, and I was afraid too, but of course realizing that there is a person who needed help, I went. I think that as a Barbadian it was my civic responsibility to see what I can do in such tragic circumstances,” he said.
The man who rushed to help Prescott was Ronald Marshall, who said he was on his patio having breakfast with visiting family members when the incident occured.
“We were able to pull him out, and he told us to get away from the plane as quickly as possible because it was leaking fuel, and he said there was a danger of it exploding.
“So we escorted him to my home . . . . I have a niece here who is trained in first aid and she put on some gloves and wiped the blood off his head,” Marshall recounted.
The resident recalled that a coherentTerrelonge asked him to contact family members.
“He was a hero. He was a very courageous guy. I believe the fuel leaked into the earth and that is why it didn’t explode.
“Seeing that was really a thing to behold. Somebody asked me if we think we were in danger. How could you think you were in danger at that time when someone needed help?” Marshall asked.
Germine Richard, who was also busy at work in the field during the episode, said he heard when the engine died but dismissed it. Moments later, he raised his head and saw the areoplane headed in his direction, so he fled.
“I run and went in the bush and watch; and then run and come and tell the rest at the house. I was a bit scared about it because I was just there working and see a plane coming at me,” he said.