Cessna 172 engine failure and forced landing at 400 feet
I was pointed to a version of this video on LiveLeak with no information (why do people DO that?) but luckily it did include a great shot of the aircraft including registration number, so it wasn’t hard to find the original video and look up the details. The video as a stand-alone is pretty cool but the story behind it makes it even better!
The occasion was the 2013 Aviation Race of Champions in Ulundi, in the Zululand district of South Africa. The event got off to a slow start.
On Race Day 1 we arrived at the airfield with grey skies and low cloud. After the pilots briefing Chris Briers flew the anticipated route of the day and arrived back with the news that it was unsafe for the race to be held. By this time it had also started to rain. The organisers then arranged a Spot Landing Competition with a sponsorship of R20,000 and a Garmin Aera 500 sponsored by Century Avionics for the winner. This attracted 37 aircraft with their crew to participate. The best out of two landings for each aircraft were recorded and the winner of the spot landing was announced as Race number 10 Mary de Klerk and Thys van der Merwe from Durban Wings Club in their Cessna 172A. The day ended with a lovely dinner and a musical performance by Dozi who was flown in all the way from Gauteng.
There’s a six-and-a-half minute montage of the first day of the event published by the organisers, a fun video showing off the participants, their aircraft and the rain. They seem to have made a good day of it despite the weather!
But it’s Race Day 2 that we are interested in. The weather improved and the race was on! Each crew consisted of a pilot and a navigator. Each navigator was given a GPS logger at the starting line. The first aircraft departed at 11:00:04. The race route was a total of 330 nautical miles over four legs, landing back at Ulundi for the finish line.
Race Entrant 88 was a Cessna F172G Skyhawk registration ZX-PXK, a four-seater high wing single engine aircraft. (Trivia for the day: more Cessna 172s have been built than any other aircraft.). The crew were Christiaan Richardson and Christiaan Vosloo. The first three legs of the race were uneventful. During the final leg, Richardson says they saw the finish line in the distance and started recording the video for their triumphant landing at Ulundi.
At that point, when the video starts, they are descending towards Ulundi and, according to Richardson, only about 15 feet over the mountain.
Just a few seconds after they turned the video on, the engine failed. They switched fuel tanks and the engine started again briefly and stopped again. The valley opened up beneath them and they had about 400 feet to find a landing spot. The two Christiaans quickly agreed to land on the river bank, literally the only clear land before them.
I’ll stop for a moment to let you watch that gorgeous touch-down.
Did you exhale loudly as the nose dropped in the soft sand at the last moment? I did!
Obviously out of the race, they shut down the aircraft and a chopper was dispatched from Ulundi to pick them up and confirm that everyone was fine. Engineers could find nothing wrong with the aircraft but suspected a vapour lock in the fuel lines.
I was surprised to discover that the plane was unharmed and flew and back to Ulundi a couple of hours later — I wouldn’t have thought they could take off in that soft sand! Chris Briers did the honours. I wondered if maybe you had to be named Chris to fly this plane, but he’s apparently a display pilot with over thirty years aviation experience. If anyone could get it out of there, he could.
Luckily, someone video’d the 172 rescue and I found it on a compilation of highlights of the event.
I’ve skipped forward to the relevant part at 5:39:
Christiaan Richardson and Christiaan Vosloo may not have won the race but they did receive the Chris Briers Trophy for Professionalism, which is given to the crew with the Most Meritorious Performance.
Don’t you just love a happy ending?