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.
Buck Country says
There really needs to be some real oversight in regard to this. Day in, day out these people fly these planes way to low over residential areas. Flaglerlive missed a few other close calls over the years not listed in the article. It happens over the L section and and western Flagler county. Constantly feel menaced by circling, engines cutting of and back on. Go fly over the ocean leave us alone.
Nancy N. says
There’s no reason to feel menaced by the engines going off and on. It’s a normal flight training exercise and instructors all across the country do it with students every day.
O wholly agree with Buck above I am sick and tired of these training pilots and aficionados circling and making maneuvers over our homes and also over showing off…several years ago I contacted FAA in Jacksonville, and also then Congressman Mica with the Transportation Board in DC. I still have the letters received from them all including the then Airport Director…then the fly overs diminished….but now they are back again. I guest we need to start a serious campaign to have these people practice fly and do maneuvers over the ocean and not over our residential areas.
By the way they don’t even have to carry insurance in those planes and I see it as a courtesy of the FAA to us in the ground. Those people that lost their house in the L section and barely run out a window for their lives had a lot of problems to collect money for losses and new temporary housing. They had to rely on neighbors and friends donations for a long while.
I will keep this editorial and copy the FAA and the Federal Transportation Commission again, when I will have the free time.
Nunya Bidness says
Seriously? This last had with low altitude. And to be sure, the FAA already has oversight.
Bonanza Driver 1 says
What year was that airport built? What is the date on the building permit for your house again? So … the airport had been there what, 40, 50, 60 years before your house? Volusia and Flagler County has a higher concentration of flight schools that anywhere else in the USA. When you climb on that big commercial jet and head off to Europe just remember .. those pilots flying that plane may have very well learned to fly right here in Flagler or Volusia County.
Trailer Bob says
I hear that. It is true that in western Bunnell we have plans flying over day and night, shutting off their engines as part of their training. It is sort of cool, but then sometimes I feel like the schools should be paying me something for the use of my tranquil hideout our here.
I live in the L section as well. Why is it that all day, EVERY DAY, there are planes circling above us? And yes, the engines cut out, and fire back up constantly! Is this a designated flight training area??
Robert Lister says
The engine is NEVER actually shut down. The power is simply pulled back to idle speed to simulate certain situations for a number of maneuvers. Honestly though, we always trained over unpopulated areas when I was working on my pilot licensing so I question this practice.
Oh, well if the engine is not actually shut down, then the noise is just fine and dandy? The POINT is the endless roaring over our heads, with no warning and it doesn’t matter when the airport was built, we are NOT NEAR it.
@Jeremy – You moved next to an airport. What did you expect?
Most planes can NOT” land” on the water so thats why they practice over land.
Concerned Citizen says
As a pilot with a dual engine rating and over 3,000 hours I’d like to extend a well down to this young man. He did a great job bringing it in safely. Anytime you are flying you run a risk of having an incident. Sounds like his training paid off and he kept calm and put it down where he could.
@ Buck Country
Sorry you feel menanced by all of us pilots flying around. Speaking for myself I stay above a respectful altitude. But touch and gos and simulated engine cut offs and restarts are part of our training. Perhaps if these pilots are really low you can catch registration numbers and report them to the Sheriffs Office and FAA. There are means of enforcement out there and criminal penalties for non-compliance. It has to be reported though.
If he started out with full tanks that would have been more than enough to go to Gainesville and back. He did a great job and no one got hurt, but I think all those miles of open sod farms would have been my choice to avoid any conflict with vehicles, and power lines.
Westside citizen says
I have been complaining to the FAA for years about these student pilots flying so low over houses out here on 305. I was told that I “shouldn’t have bought a house near an airport, and to get the wing number”. It’s not that easy to get a wing number on a plane flying right above your house. I guess when buying a house now, we are expected to check all airports to see if they have student pilots and where they fly. They fly over our houses and practice stalls every day, over and over. You can’t hear them until they restart the engines directly overhead, which is very loud and scares us to death. It scares the cattle and horses as well and no amount of complaining has helped. I guess we residents have no rights at all. We live in fear of having one of these small planes come crashing into our houses.
Name (required) says
Good for this young pilot. Way to keep cool and get the task done. Textbook save. Top work!
Watch your toupee says
I once experienced a plane fly so low over our house, I could see the wheels to the point I could easily see the tread on them, and other features such as rivets, etc – things no one should be able to see on a plane while it’s flying in the air. To top it off, there was a very, very thick fog out, too. You could hear the plane coming, and you knew it was very very low, but it was white so it was hard to see it through the fog until it was over the house. Had to be about 100-200 feet high. The pilot flew dead west, made a U turn a few miles in, and then flew dead east back over our street again. But I am with the other guy who commented, I am very tired of hearing engines cutting on and off. I recognize a lot of these pilots probably know what they are doing, but the way I see it is like this: planes are not so different than cars, I am not going to assume everyone knows how to drive them!
Indeed praise the gods it ended well. Good job Abdullah.
Those complainers are the ones who build or buy close to an airport. When you do that what do expect.
Watch your toupee says
Hi there. Thank you for assuming I live next to an airport! Just FYI – I do not. Don’t you think I would have thought of that already? ;-)
The voice of reason says
I expect noise abatement to be voluntarily put into effect. We have a situation here where the exploding number of flight schools have destroyed quality of life in airport neighborhoods. The FAA should have already stepped in to remedy this but the guys in the tower must be snoozing on the job.
In the first place, Espanola Road is not 305, secondly, “we complainers” are not anywhere near the airport if you would care to look. We are on the west side of Flagler County, nowhere near the airport, which is on 100 on the east side of US1. If you were subjected to daily doses of student pilots, flying barely over the tree line above your house and practicing stalls, you wouldn’t like it either.
I’ve lived all over Fl, and I have never seen so many small plane accidents and near misses as I do in the Flagler County area.