Adam Sawyer, Help Desk and classroom technology coordinator at Newman University, earned his pilot’s license in March 2018 and just months after, during Labor Day weekend, he earned kudos for a smooth emergency landing.
Sawyer and another pilot, A.J. Jenson, were getting in some flight hours while working toward their commercial licenses. The pair took off from Wichita, Kansas, in a plane owned by Pray Aviation, the school they are attending to earn the license, and headed for Texas. Jenson took the first flight and Sawyer was to pilot the distance home.
The flight to Texas was smooth sailing — their flight home was a different story.
Within 25 to 30 minutes of their return flight, the plane started experiencing problems. Sawyer said they were at 10,500 feet at the point things started to go awry and he knew he needed to think quickly.
“All of a sudden the power went down,” explained Sawyer, “and the fuel pressure went down. I knew something was happening but thought it was a temporary problem, but it definitely wasn’t. So then I started to descend. There were a few clouds, so I made sure I could see the ground the whole time. I didn’t want to lose sight of the ground.”
At this point, Sawyer and his co-pilot were already in communication with air traffic control. He knew the nearest airport was not close enough and was immediately concerned that he wouldn’t make it in time.
“I tried to restart, see if there were any solutions, nothing seemed to help, so we started to head back toward an airport, but it was quite far away.”
As air traffic control was guiding them in, they were reaching an altitude of about 2,500 feet. They were told to maintain that altitude but Sawyer had to break the news that he wouldn’t be able to do that. He noticed a large open field and communicated his plan to land.
Not minutes later, they lost communication with air traffic control.
Sawyer said he never really had time to think any negative thoughts after that point.
“All I was thinking about as I was coming in was ‘Make sure you keep the nose wheel off the ground,’ because I didn’t want the plane to flip over. I just had a moment of clarity and did everything I could to save the plane and ourselves.”
During the whole ordeal, Jenson was flipping through checklists and trying to keep track of what Sawyer was doing. Afterward, Sawyer said he asked Jenson why he was so quiet while everything was happening. He simply replied, “I was a little busy going through checklists while talking to the man upstairs.”
Sawyer was able to land the plane just as he had planned in the plowed field he had spotted without any damage to the plane or himself and his co-pilot.
“We called 911 straight away, and also told them to let air traffic control that we were safe. We had a few fire trucks and police officers, and even some locals came to check out what had just happened.”
It’s a closed case now as far as the FAA is concerned, but not closed in Sawyer’s mind. He said the memory will be one that lives with him for years to come.
“The whole experience has changed me a bit, but for the better. It has made me more confident to know that in an emergency, I could probably handle it. It’s made me more cautious a bit as well. While I’m flying, I’m always sort of looking, if something does go wrong, I’m looking for where I can land and what I can do.”