Abdullah Khawja has this to be thankful for today: he’s not dead.
Nor is he injured. Nor was anyone else injured as Khawja, a 27-year-old pilot who was training with a flight school in Ormond Beach, was forced to land his single-engine Cessna in an emergency on a stretch of County Road 205 in Espanola early this afternoon, swooping beneath high-voltage power lines to make the landing.
“I was terrified but I was trained to do the right thing, sir,” Khawja, 27, said, less than an hour after the landing, after he spoke with authorities. By then the plane had been wheeled off CR205. It was intact. He said there was light traffic on the road but was able to maneuver safely.
“He did a hell of a job to avoid the power lines, too,” a law enforcement officer said.
“I had to basically fly below it, because if I was going to fly above it I was going to basically die. Not be here,” Khawja said. “Hamdulillah,” he added, Arabic for “thank God.” (Khawja is U.S.-born but his family is from Saudi Arabia.)
Khawja was flying with Sunrise Aviation Flight School of Ormond Beach. He had taken off this morning from Ormond Municipal Airpirt, flown to Gainesville, landed and briefly stopped there, then took off again for Ormond. He was flying at 3,500 feet when he developed engine problems 9.5 miles from Flagler Executive Airport. He thought he had four hours’ worth of fuel. He surmised he may in fact have had less, though it’s still not clear what went wrong. The emergency landing took place at 1 p.m.
“He had a problem with the motor, he wasn’t sure if it was fuel or mechanical,” Steve Williams, the Flagler County Sheriff’s deputy who covers the west side, said.
The Cessna was manufactured in 1978, according to its Federal Aviation Administration registration. FAA officials were on their way to the landing site to determine what went wrong: until then, the plane is not safe to operate, officials at the scene said. They said Khawja is a licensed pilot but only recently so, with 100-some flight hours.
In July 2017, a Sunrise Aviation plane–a Piper PA44 Seminole–crashed in the Pellicer Creek area, killing a 27-year-old flight-school student from Saudi Arabia, and his 70-year-old flight instructor from Ormond Beach.
Flagler County has been the scene of numerous other crash or emergency landings in the last few years, most of them non-fatal: in 2010, a couple landed their plane on State Road 100, safely, after a cylinder blew. The following year, the pilot of an experimental plane somehow survived a severe crash in the woods at the west end of the county. In 2013, a Phoenix East flight school instructor and student safely landed a plane on Palm Coast Parkway. In July 2017, a twin-engine plane had to make an emergency landing off County Road 304. In August 2017, a single-engine plane crash-landed and burned on the Flagler Beach bridge, with no injuries to its two occupants. There were also crash landings in Hunter’s Ridge in 2016 and in Lake Disston in 2013. In November 2016, a plane owned by James Gardner, the county property appraiser, was demolished in a crash in Plantation Bay, but its two occupants, though severely injured, survived: Joel Fallon and Josh Rosa.
In March 2011, Pilot Bill Walker, 58, known as “Wild Bill,” died during an air show at the county airport when his single-engine plane crashed during show maneuvers. And in January 2013, three people–Michael Anders, Duane Shaw and Charisse Peoples–were killed when their plane crashed into a house in Palm Coast’s U-Section, as they were making an emergency approach to the county airport.