Wheel Falls Off For Student Cross-Country Solo

14 Sep 18 11 Comments

This was initially brought to my attention by Tom Podolec Aviation on Twitter who posted about a Piper PA-28 in distress. The student pilot, a 17-year-old woman named Maggie Taraska, had just taken off when the right main gear fell off the aircraft on departure.

Taraska took off from Beverly Regional Airport in a Piper PA-28 intending to fly to Portland Maine for her first cross country solo. She had 60 hours experience.

The audio here is from LiveATC and I’m warning you now, it’s a pretty emotional ride. Taraska is clearly panicking at the start and in or near tears. The change when she hears her instructor’s voice is really noticeable.

I’ve also included a download of the raw audio from LiveATC here:

The controller informs her of the problem although Taraska has clearly already realised as her radio skills break down, responding to the controller with “Yeah?”

Your right main is now missing from the airplane. It’s fallen off the airplane. Say your intentions.

After the initial surprise, the air traffic controller does a stirling job of telling the pilot what’s going to happen and how they are going to help her, showing utter confidence that the student is going to get the plane down.

“It will be ok. Just go ahead and circle the airport, for now. Make a right turn to circle. We’re going to get some people to help you. OK?

I’m going to tell the truth, I felt my heart in my throat listening to the fear in Taraska’s voice.

The controller kept calmly telling her that it’ll all be OK and to just circle normally. If you look at the Taraska’s pattern on FlightAware, you can see that she’s perfectly following instructions and her altitude is only varying within 200 feet, despite the fact that she’s clearly in tears.

It is such a relief to hear her first instructor speak to her on the radio. The change in her voice is tremendous; she even almost laughs. He works to build her confidence, reminding her that she has plenty of fuel.

Then her current instructor takes over, giving her clear instructions but also underscoring that now she has to trust her own ability to fly and that it’s up to her to make this work. This is one of the core lessons in the PPL; that you are the captain of the aircraft and you must take responsibility for it.

You’re doing a great job flying the airplane. Keep doing what you’re doing. … We got plenty of time. You’ve got plenty of fuel. We’ve got plentiful of daylight. So just try to relax. And you always heard me say go back to basics. So we’re going to work the basics here as much as possible. OK?

Taraska later said, “I was scared and stressed out. Obviously, if you listen to my conversation with the tower, you can hear that pretty clearly.”

You really can, but at the same time, she never lost control and she never gave up. She responded to every call clearly and concisely. And then with the support of her instructor, she started a final circuit for her landing.

It’s your right wheel that’s missing. The plus side here is that you’ve got a little bit of a left-crosswind, so if you use your normal left crosswind correction, that means the left side will touch down first and you are just going to ease the right side down.

Her father arrived shortly before she landed, by now she was back to giving standard radio calls and clearly feeling more confident.

By the time I saw Maggie coming on her approach, it was a better approach I could have flown. And I got more hours than she does.

She touched down and you can hear in the background as the tower breaks into applause.

The following day, the flight instructor spoke to the local news:

I always told my students: aviate, navigate, communicate. It’s an old saying, but it really pays off…It really was her working the situation and me just giving her some coaching.

N2496X after Taraska’s landing

Tom Podolec Aviation added this great audio to Twitter where a pilot requests the autograph from the controller who dealt with the emergency.


The following day Taraska confirmed to Boston25 News that she was going back up later this week. Way to go, pilot!

Category: Learning to Fly,


  • I LOVE this !
    We all want to read stories with a happy ending.
    A great performance from all concerned.
    The instructors were superbly professional and the student?
    Well, she did very well and with the reassurance of the instructors she recovered her composure.
    A story that is an example of top professionalism.
    Well done to everyone !

  • Wow! That was quite a listen. Fantastic job John the instructor. But most importantly, awesome job Maggie! \o/ Kept calm, did what she has been trained to do. And she came across very well at the press conference too, short clip later in the Twitter thread. What a great pilot.

  • Great result, and good teamwork, but do we know why the wheel fell off?
    Was it faulty maintenance or the result of hard landings as a training aircraft perhaps?

      • Or it could just be poor maintenance. Beverly was the last of the 3 lightplane airfields on 128 (the ring highway that goes most of the way around Boston) to get a control tower; I don’t know anything about their FBO(s) or school(s), but I wonder whether they have anyone cutting corners trying to keep up with Hanscom (Bedford) or Norwood, or have any difficulty getting the same quality of staff.

        A prior hard landing would reflect on maintenance, but it might also not have been reported by the pilot. It will be interesting seeing what comes out of whatever investigation there is, however long it takes.

  • Kudis for everyone around. Her ability to fly was reinforced by her instructor. She had the skills she just needed good feedback which is what she got.

    Really it is like any profession that deals in extraordinaire events. Leo (law enforcement) Fire Department and Medical Emergency services. You train, train, train and if something unexpected happens your training kicks in (like the airplane checklist) and in taking those steps the emotions are held at bay at everyone is able to perform under the gun just like they were trained. It sounds as though she will continue to gain experience and will remember the steps taken to insure that she could fly another day.

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