Cessna 172 Struck by Train
This video of a pilot who has used at least two of his nine lives was released by the Los Angeles Police Department on Monday. Note that if you are reading this on the email list, you may need to click through to the post to watch the videos.
Foothill Division Officers displayed heroism and quick action by saving the life of a pilot who made an emergency landing on the railroad tracks at San Fernando Rd. and Osborne St., just before an oncoming train collided with the aircraft. pic.twitter.com/DDxtGGIIMo
— LAPD HQ (@LAPDHQ) January 10, 2022
Since 2018, the Los Angeles Police Department has been releasing the police officers’ body-worn camera videos to the public for critical incidents. This body camera policy has since become the model for the state of California, allowing for greater transparency and community trust in the police department.
The police department did not release any additional information with this but it wasn’t hard to track down the details.
The aircraft was a Cessna 172H registration N8056L built in 1967. The fixed wing single engine with four seats was privately “co-owned” with three names in the FAA listing.
The primary owner, Mark Jenkins, is a 70-year-old pilot who served in the US Air Force as a fighter pilot and is an experienced General Aviation pilot. He departed from Whiteman Airport, a general aviation airport in Pacoima in Los Angeles.
Whiteman Airport started as a farm strip in 1946 and currently offers a single 4,000 foot (1,200 metre) asphalt runway. Wikipedia lists it as the home airport for Senior Squadron 35, Cadet Squadron 137, and Los Angeles County Group 1 of the Civil Air Patrol, as well as EAA Chapter 40 and a branch of the Young Eagles. The airport supports 246 jobs and serves Studio City, Universal Studios, the Hollywood Bowl and Six Flags Magic Mountain. I mention all this as there are now calls to shut down the airport over safety concerns despite the fact that the city enveloped it without any concern for ensuring green spaces or keeping the area safe.
At any rate, the pilot took off on runway 12 and then almost immediately afterwards lost power. He made a Mayday call, almost immediately followed by the words “railway tracks”.
The railway line runs parallel to the runway and the pilot came down directly past the airfield, landing on the tracks at the intersection of San Fernando Road and Osborne Street. The pilot’s son told NBC News that something, probably a railroad tie (railway sleeper), ripped off the nose wheel on touchdown, causing the plane to crash forward while still at speed.
VASaviation made a video with the ATC calls which gives a bit more context:
ATC responded immediately by calling 911 (US emergency services) and reporting the crash site.
The Foothills police station is very close to the area and one of the police officers on the scene said he saw plane come down. The police were on the scene within five minutes, where they found the Cessna 172 crashed on the railway line with the pilot trapped within the cockpit, bleeding but awake.
They called for a halt to all passing rail traffic and blocked off the road to the intersection, while another officer spoke to the pilot to help keep him conscious.
Once the scene had been secured, they looked to free the pilot from the cockpit. Then came the sound of an oncoming train.
One of the officers told local media that it happened so fast, they didn’t have time to think. “All I could think was try to get this man to safety. I didn’t really want to look back to see how fast the train was coming; you could hear it coming.”
They frantically began to pull the pilot from the wreckage as the train bore down on them. The pilot was unable to walk and they dragged him away from the tracks.
The train was the MetroLink commuter service with sixty-six passengers on board. I am not very good at rail matters so all I can tell you is that it was Train 266. Seven seconds after the police officers and pilot were clear of the wreckage, the train came through at full speed, smashing through the tail of the Cessna.
Here is footage taken of the train blasting through the intersection, taken by a bystander who had stopped to look at the scene. You can see that, as the train passes, the bystanders are almost struck by the flying debris.
All over the Internet, I’m seeing arguments about how much time it would take that train to stop, with estimates ranging from 2,300 feet to over a mile. I’m not sure it matters what the braking distance was as there was no attempt to stop.
The engineer driving the train, Metrolink Train 266, said he had no idea about the plane wreck until he was upon it. He said he was going 80 miles per hour at the time and had not been notified of any hazard on the track.
Metrolink have a control room which react to reports of anything blocking the tracks and an official stated that trains can be stopped within five minutes of an emergency call. The transit agency is investigating the situation but implied that it may have been an issue if the emergency number wasn’t phoned immediately. “There is an appropriate procedure to stop rail traffic, and it’s not just calling it in over the radio,” said a Metrolink spokesman.
The pilot was taken to hospital for treatment but was said to be in stable condition. His son said in an interview that the pilot had suffered pretty significant damage to his face and broken ribs but he is expected to fully recover.
This set of photographs on Facebook showing the scene after the second crash was taken by an ex-Press Photographer:
One question that has arisen is why they didn’t drag the Cessna off the tracks, with the pilot inside, and then deal with freeing him from the wreckage afterwards. Of course, we don’t really know what the situation with the plane was upon landing and how easy it would be to move it. Additionally, Pilot DAR on PPRuNe posted that it is unlikely that they even thought about moving the Cessna first.
I trained firefighters in extrication for years, including from GA planes. We would never attempt to move a vehicle with a patient in it. Only stabilize and extricate. If you try to move a vehicle with someone in it, and something goes wrong, which is really possible, it’s now your cause. The patient could be further injured, further trapped, it could catch fire, roll over, or another first responder could be injured – stabilize only. I’ve crawled into a lot of unpleasant places to cut a patient out of a car. For the couple of accidents where the vehicle had to be moved first, we had already determined that there was no rush, as we’d wait for the coroner. Though we did do auto extrication on or very near railway tracks, we were always able to get the trains stopped first, or it had already stopped. But, knowing that could be impossible to stop a very near train at track speed, my admiration of these police officers!
The FAA and Metrolink have already announced they are investigating as is, of course, the NTSB, although I’m dying to know how they assemble a GO team. My favourite YouTube comment summed it up:
Going to be a weird case for NTSB…
NTSB: Do you need air crash investigator or train crash investigator?
The NTSB will also be investigating “the exact timing, communication, and how long the plane was on the tracks.”
I have to admit that in this instance, I’m much less interested in why the plane crashed and much more interested to find out why the train wasn’t stopped.