As a corollary to my recently launched Stupid Pilot Tricks (SPT) blog series, I'm also starting a Lucky To Be Alive (LTBA) Series as I'm quite amazed at how people survive what otherwise look to be unsurvivable accidents. Based on words and pix from the US National Transportation Safety Board.
LTBA#1: Hitting the broad side of a barn
Thomas Solomon of Plano, Texas is either a damned good pilot or one of the luckiest pilots alive. Or perhaps he's both.
At 8:45pm central time on a jet-black night during a solo cross-country from Destin, Florida to Addison, Texas, he runs out of fuel near Carthage, Texas (about 170 miles short of his destination) in his Piper Cherokee 140 single-engine piston-powered aircraft (N333NA).
I'll let Mr. Solomon tell the story from here. We pick up the incident just after he calls Shreveport air traffic controllers and tells them of his predicament (he was concerned about remaining fuel and the behaviour of the gauges).
"8:45 Approach gives nearest airport and I determine that I wouldn't make it. Approach gives nearby road, and heading, and I try that direction, but realize I need to pick something closer and more visible."
"Trying to switch tanks, Fuel pump on/off to restart"
"See a car on a road, but other than the car, the road is invisible. No other roads visible either."
"Spot a lit parking lot near a facility with tanks or silos at one end. Decide to appoach and try to land there...."
Soon after, he gets what appears to be a repreive from the dying engine, albeit one that is short lived.
"Power comes back on Full power. At least 10, maybe 15 seconds. Begin a climb. Power completely goes off. Nose drops sharply."
Just then he spots a barn with its "roof lit from above". He surmises the barn is unoccupied and decides to land.... on its roof.
"Flare upon arrival at front of barn, just above the roof. I remember wondering why it took so long to impact, then feeling impact and a small sense of relief that I didn't miss the barn."
More importantly than Solomon not missing the barn, was him NOT hitting things like rafters. The NTSB notes that the Cherokee hit in an attitude that was "near vertically".
Solomon was just as nonchalant about his escape from the hanging aircraft.
"I exited through the windshield of the aircraft since it was broken in the collision and it was relatively easy to depart this way."