Son a ‘hero’ for safely landing plane without propeller

The father of a 26-year-old pilot who safely landed a small plane in a blueberry patch in Saanich after the engine quit and the propeller fell off calls his son a hero.

“He did every single thing right,” said Warren McCall of North Saanich.

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His son Ryan McCall, a certified pilot who also works in the military, was taking his father out in a four-seater Cessna 172 to celebrate his 54th birthday when at about 1,300 feet the plane’s engine started to sputter.

Within about 15 seconds the father and son had bigger problems. Engine oil started spraying until it covered the front windshield.

“He had to figure out the flight path over top of the power lines and land in the field while he couldn’t see out the front window, looking out the side window with one eye and flying with one hand and he touched down perfectly in the blueberry bush,” said Warren.

If it wasn’t for irrigation hoses that got caught up in the plane’s landing gear, Ryan would have glided the plane in for a safe stop, said his father. Instead, the plane flipped up on its nose and over on its back. The pair walked away without serious injury.

Now the search is on to find that propeller.

Greg Matte, general manager of the Victoria Flying Club, said a report that the propeller was found had been relayed to the board’s president. But the search continued Wednesday afternoon in the fields around GardenWorks and Mount Douglas Golf Course on Blenkinsop Road.

Matte said he would be back out today looking for the propeller and encourages anyone walking in the area of the Blenkinsop Valley, on the west side of Mount Douglas, to keep a lookout.

Matte said the terrain in the area is varied, including wetlands, trails, farms, fields and Mount Douglas Park. He estimates the propeller will be found within half a kilometre of the golf course.

The propeller, with a piece of engine attached, will be key evidence as the club attempts to reassemble the four-seat Cessna 172 to determine what caused the engine’s “catastrophic failure” just before 9 a.m. in dry weather and clear skies.

“If anyone finds it, it remains the property of the Victoria Flying Club,” Matte said. “But more importantly, it’s crucial to the investigation, because there’s a serial number on it — that’s important with regard to examining other things on the engine.”

The plane is now back in the flying club’s hangar.

To say losing a propeller mid-flight is “extraordinarily unusual” is an understatement, said Colin Williamson, board president of the Victoria Flying Club. “I haven’t heard of it happening before.”

Bad weather is the most common factor in small-plane crashes, and engine failure is rare, said Williamson.

Williamson said the pilot ran into trouble over Mount Douglas Park about 10 to 15 minutes after departure from Victoria International Airport.

The pilot managed to glide the single-engine plane past homes and buildings and onto a field in Red Gate Farm, just short of Beckwith Park. “It was brilliant airmanship to pull that off,” said Williamson.

The father and son suffered only minor injuries when trying to unbelt themselves and crawl out of the upturned plane.

ceharnett@timescolonist.com

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