KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – Authorities with the Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency and Knoxville Police Department have recovered a plane from the Tennessee River after its engine failed Tuesday night.
According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Martin Odendaal, 62, of Freindsville, was flying his experimental aircraft from Sky Ranch Airport to the Downtown Island Airport Tuesday when he had to land it in the river.
Knoxville firefighters said they were called to the scene around 8:45 p.m. for a rescue operation, but Odendaal was able to meet them at the shore after swimming from his sunken plane.
According to the FAA, Odendaal’s plane is a Flightstar FC II.
Walter Lounsbery, a local pilot, said Odendaal’s plane looked more like an ultralight plane, and possibly flew similar to one as well.
He said those kinds of planes can be easier to land in smaller areas.
“He was flying a very slow aircraft, kind of a ultralight aircraft. Those are wonderful in that they can land in very short spots and if you land in the water it’s normally very safe,” Lounsbery said.
He said that learning how to land in an emergency is a big part of training for a light sport pilot license.
“One of the most crucial things is learning how to divert from your airport to land if you have a mechanical problem. That’s apparently what happened with this pilot. He wasn’t able to make it to Downtown Island Airport, but he could make it into the river which is a lot better than crashing into something,” Lounsbery said.
He said that Odendaal made an excellent landing, compared to the alternatives.
Mitch Bennett, a flight instructor at Sky Ranch, said that pilot training always includes a ditching maneuver.
Bennett agreed that Odendaal executed a textbook ditching maneuver.
According to Bennett, pilots need to look for the safest landing zone closest to them, and in Odendaal’s case that was the water.
He said that then, pilots need to keep calm and accept the fact that their engine failed.
“Without hesitation, (the pilot) immediately pitch(es) for best glide speed as to not stall the aircraft,” Bennett said.
He said then the pilot would head straight for a controlled glide to touch down on the water.
“His training and experience allowed for this to happen for him and the general public. He did a great job landing from the sounds of it. He is alive and safe, nobody else was injured. His training paid off,” Bennett applauded about Odendaal’s landing.
Authorities said that they didn’t have any environmental concerns with leaving the plane in the Tennessee River because the plane used regular fuel, not jet fuel, and it was only carrying about five gallons.
The FAA and National Transportation Safety Board are investigating the “crash.”