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Sun, Sep 18, 2005

Crew Uses 'Normal Procedures' To Drive Under Plane, Knock Gear Down

Plane Lands Safely After One-Hour Ordeal

If at first you don't succeed, try, try again -- with a firefighters pole. That lesson paid off for a ground crew at New Smyrna Beach Municipal Airport (EVB) after they successfully knocked the right main gear of a Cessna Cutlass (file photo of type, below) into locked position, after several failed attempts.

Epic Aviation Senior Instructor Jason Messenger and student pilot Kenneth Barrett were returning from a lesson around 9 am Friday morning when they received an indication that the C172RG's landing gear wasn't locked into place, according to a written statement from the New Smyrna Beach FBO.

First the two attempted to recycle the gear. When that didn't work, Messenger and Barrett attempted to "bump" the malfunctioning leg into place by bouncing the working wheels against the tarmac, according to media reports.

It was then that Danny Perna, president of Epic Aviation, and two passengers grabbed a Jeep and drove onto the runway. Their original plan was to have one of the passengers grab the gear and lock it down, as the Jeep raced underneath the plane at about 65 mph.

When the gear still wouldn't lock, the crew then borrowed a 12-foot firefighters pole from emergency crews and drove back onto the runway, driving underneath the stricken Cessna. After one failed attempt, on the second try one of the passengers managed to knock the pole against the gear leg, locking it in place.

The Cutlass, all three wheels in place, landed without further incident and was met by a cheering crowd that witnessed the hour-long event.

"That was incredible," said witness William Shaw. "Those guys in the Jeep are heroes."

A spokesman for Epic stated that the crew in the Jeep went through "normal procedures" in driving just underneath a speeding aircraft -- and behind a spinning propeller -- and knocking the gear into place. All others involved in the ordeal declined to comment.

It's hard to deny that the crew prevented a wheels-up landing that would have likely caused significant damage to the aircraft, as well as potential for injury to the passengers aboard (especially with a high-wing craft such as a Cessna, that has a greater potential for ground-looping if a wingtip drops.)

There is some question, however, as to the legality of the Epic crew's inspired solution.

FAA spokeswoman Kathleen Bergen said the agency will investigate the landing. Pending the outcome of that report, officials will then determine if any regulations were violated by the "highly unusual" maneuver, she said.

FMI: www.epicaviation.com

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