Phoenix East flight school’s Raul d’Souza is a hero: the young instructor was piloting a plane late this afternoon, practicing emergency landings with a student, when the plane ran into engine troubles–and forced D’Souza, 34, to execute an emergency landing in the heart of Palm Coast. He did so nearly flawlessly.
With him was Joo Lee, 33, who looked distinctly shaken from the experience. They both smoked, paced, sat, and smoked again soon after the landing. They’re both based at Phoenix East Aviation, on Pearl Harbor Drive in Daytona Beach. D’Souza, who’s been at the flight school since at least 2004, maintains a YouTube page of favorites that includes several video clips from the flight school.
An SUV–or at least a large white car–had to do an evasive maneuver as the eastbound plane negotiated the two rather narrow lanes of Palm Coast Parkway west, and a huge semi, carrying cars, was also on the road; the plane faintly clipped the truck, but managed to land on the road. The truck had been parked on the shoulder, having just picked up a Mercedes from Parkway Self Storage. The plane clipped its left-front guide-pole with the marker light on its left wing, which shattered, leaving tiny and still-visible fragments on the fender above the truck’s left-front-tire. The plane also clipped the air cleaner, which was dented.
The single-engine Piper, built in 1968, landed safely at 6:45 p.m. on Palm Coast Parkway, just west of Belle Terre. The plane sat on the road for less than 20 minutes before authorities and one of the two occupants of the plane pushed it off the road and parked it at the entrance of Parkway Self Storage. The wesbound lanes of Palm Coast Parkway were shut down only briefly.
The plane belongs to Daytona Aircraft Leasing Inc., based at the same address as the flight school. D’Souza had reported engine trouble to the Daytona airport’s tower just after 6:30 p.m. Authorities in Flagler got the call of a plane in distress at 6:37 p.m., when dispatch announced an airplane emergency, describing a plane approaching Palm Coast Parkway from the west, toward the east, and possibly looking to land there. Shortly afterward, the landing took place.
The pilot and his passenger declined to be interviewed, referring questions to their safety supervisor, who was on his way from Daytona Beach. The Florida Highway Patrol was investigating the incident, which it categorized as a crash the moment the plane struck the truck.
Hayden Gordon, 52, has owned the truck since 1999, and said he’d never had any road incident resembling his experience Wednesday afternoon. He’s based in Port St. Lucie. He was on his way to New York City, after starting to pick up cars in Miami. He had three on the truck. “I didn’t really see it,” Gordon said of the plane’s approach. “I was parked here, I’d just put the car up, and I was right here, getting ready to chain it” he said, describing his position to the right of the truck, with the truck blocking his view of the parkway. “Then I hear the sound, I hear it go boom. So when I spin around I saw the plane. There was a car coming. The car went right under. The car went right under it, yeah?” It was a white car. “And I saw the plane hit the ground and run out.”
Gordon ran down to see the pilots, who had immediately bailed from the plane and run to the south shoulder of the road, on the grass. “It kind of scared me a bit, you know,” Gordon continued, after he’d realized what had unfolded, but “they were fine,” he said of the plane’s occupants. “The guy said his engine went out, he tried to start it but it wouldn’t start.”
For Flagler County, this last plane emergency is only the latest in a series, and one of the more fortunate.
On Jan. 5, a plane carrying three people developed engine trouble on its way back from the Caribbean and crashed into a home on Utica Path in Palm Coast, killing the pilot and two passengers. The homeowner survived unscathed. At Wings Over Flagler, the annual air show, in March 2011, stunt pilot Bill Walker was killed when his Yak 52 plane crashed in front of spectators as he was going through a routine. Two months later, John Roderick, a 66-year-old retired Air Force lieutenant colonel, survived a spectacular crash in the woods of west Flagler when his plane lost power. And in May 2010, Leslie and John Nixon, Ormond Beach residents on their way to dinner in Georgia, made an emergency landing on the westbound lanes of State Road 100. No one was hurt.