The safe emergency landing Thursday night of a plane carrying members of professional skydiving group Team Fastrax is “one of those miracles that you give thanks to God for,” says John Hart, one of the group’s founders.
Five members of the Middletown-based team were in route to a scheduled fuel stop in South Carolina when the engine of their Cessna 206 airplane failed midair. They were headed to Charleston for the Cooper River Bridge Run, where they are scheduled to perform Saturday. The plane was landed around 9 p.m. Thursday on a highway in Wellford.
Hart, who was not on the flight, but talked to the group by phone afterwards, said he thinks a series of last minute changes must have been divine intervention to save the plane from crashing.
“A lot of miracles happened,” Hart said.
First, Hart, a pilot-in-training, was supposed to be on the flight but swapped places with Hollis Collins, a pilot with about 1,000 hours of training under his belt.
Collins was supposed to sit in the middle, but sat up front next to the main pilot instead, Hart recounted.
And Highway 29, where the landing took place is normally busy, but at about 9 p.m. last night when the plane landed, there were no drivers, according to Hart.
When the engine stopped, the pilot followed emergency procedures by trying to restart the engine and look for alternative places to land. They saw football fields.
“They were heading towards those fields and at the last moment the pilot who was currently flying says ‘we’re going to come up short,’ and Hollis saw the highway,” Hart says.
“He immediately took the yoke and steered the plane and in a matter of seconds to the highway and avoided wires and trees and successfully landed in the dark.”
Founded in 2002, Team Fastrax of Middletown’s Hook Field boasts to be the largest commercial skydiving team in the world with about 30 total members. Fastrax performs at professional sporting and other events.
“We train every day,” Hart said.
“We skydive, so there’s risk involved, so our safety and our being aware of certain situations are heightened all the time,” he said. “I believe that heightened sense of awareness was a key factor to Hollis doing what he did and being successful in putting that plane where it needed to be at that moment in addition to divine intervention.”
He said the team is ready to do their job on Saturday.
Authorities say the Federal Aviation Administration will investigate what happened.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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