By: Inderpal Singh (Chhabra)
It was the usual winter morning on Long Island on Sunday, December 11, 2016.
The Mid Island Pilots Club usually has a Sunday afternoon flight scheduled every week. We go out to restaurants no more than an hour away. I reach the airport at around noon and found my friend David waiting for me. I walked out to the plane already sitting on the ramp. Pre-flighted the plane thoroughly and looked on the engine compartment to make sure there were no leaks. Went back inside the lobby to update my iPad with the latest charts on ForeFlight.
We got inside the plane, did my pre-flight checklist and fired up the engine. Nothing was amiss. I called the clearance and asked for 5500 feet. It was going to be a short flight of about 30 minutes to Barnes Massachusetts.
We taxied up to the run up area of runway 24, after we were cleared to taxi. The run up checked out fine. The engine did not miss a beat when I did the mag check.
There were plenty of planes landing on 24 while we were waiting . A particular 172 must’ve done at least three touch and goes followed by a big southwest 737 before finally we were cleared for takeoff. I climbed out on runway heading as instructed and reported to New York approach leaving 1200. The controller instructed me to climb to my cruise altitude and asked me my on course setting heading, which was 025.
We turned towards the Long Island sound, a crossing I have made innumerable times. Upon reaching 5500 feet, I pulled the prop back to 2300. The engine did not sound right. I played with the mixer control and the throttle control. That seem to have made it worse. I looked at David and asked should we turn back? He said yes. I called the controller and mumbled something about engine trouble and started a turn to the right. Suddenly I started seeing small slick of oil on the windshield. And the engine started getting rougher. I immediately called out I’m declaring an emergency. The controller told me Bridgeport is the nearest airport. It was on the heading of 360 and 10 miles out. Since I was already committed to the turn, I chose the closest airport, albeit closed, Calverton to minimize turn maneuvers. “Heading of 135 and how many souls on board”. I replied “135, two souls on board”.
Suddenly something flew off the front of the plane. The plane was still developing partial power for a few minutes. And then it stopped. It got very quiet. And I was happy for it because the vibration stopped.
David was looking out the right window and reported the beach with the bluffs off the coast of Long Island. He kept on repeating to me, watch the instruments, watch the instruments. I said 110 Out loud again and again, the best glide speed in the bonanza. I was having some control problems also, the plane seem to be wanting to turn towards the right. We could not see a thing outside the windshield since it was all oil on it. The excellent synthetic vision on my G500 was my primary instrument for controlling the airplane.
Getting near the beach, I was at 1900 feet. I turned to the left to go parallel to the beach and braced for a landing. David asked me to turn the plane the bit to avoid hitting the Bluffs. At about 80 knots, a sudden slam and we hit the water. My glasses and my turban flew off. David had his hand on the door all the time and opened it immediately we climbed out to the wing. The plane was sinking. I told David I don’t know how to swim. He was very calm and looked at me reassuringly. He pointed out a nearby rock and suggested we swim to it. We did that.
There were a few people walking on the beach who saw us. We yelled, we are fine, call 911.
The rock water is covered with slimy seaweed and grass. It was not easy getting a grip but I hung on to the rock with my bare hands clawing at some jagged edges with my feet in the water while David was able to get up and sit on the rock.
We saw a plane circling overhead a few minutes later. David waived at it.
I handed my iPhone to David and he was able to dial 911. It seemed like an eternity before I heard a police department helicopter overhead. Then another eternity before he saw some boats coming our way. We got pulled on to the boat and headed for shore.
A short ambulance ride later, we were at Stony Brook University Hospital.
No injuries on either of us, and we were discharged after a few hours.
At a few days, all I could think of was how Waheguru looks after his pupils.
All I could say was “Waheguru!”