Emergency landing A-OK
Moments after takeoff on Tuesday morning from Telluride, pilot Raymond Cody was down to pretty much his wings and a prayer.
Cody’s instrument panel, including his radio and other electronic lifelines within the cockpit, went dark as he raised his landing gear.
He didn’t know if the gear was up or down, and without a radio, Cody had no direct way to contact a tower for help.
The best course, Cody reasoned, was to continue on to his original destination, Grand Junction Regional Airport, because it had all the emergency equipment he might need, Cody said Wednesday.
The only problem was he had no way to tell airport officials that they might need to get that emergency equipment out on the runway, much less be sure he would have a runway cleared for him.
So, at 10,000 feet and 20 miles out, Cody reached for his cell phone and dialed the first phone number he saw for Grand Junction Regional: the customer-service number for the Transportation Security Administration.
Gene Manzanares, a coordination-center officer in Grand Junction, who usually deals with issues such as what kinds of things people can take aboard commercial aircraft, picked up the phone when Cody called at 8:01 a.m.
Manzanares had been on the job since 4:30 and already had dealt with three more routine kinds of issues.
TSA officials are trained to deal with unusual circumstances, “though none of this magnitude,” Manzanares said.
“I felt a little anxiety,” Cody said, but that was mostly during the lonely minutes in the air until he could make his call for help.
Once he heard Manzanares’ voice crackle over the phone, “I felt better,” Cody said.
He then settled into the business of getting back on the ground, telling Manzanares he was declaring an aircraft emergency and sketching out his situation.
Manzanares immediately called airport emergency personnel and was told that only the control tower could declare an emergency.
While maintaining contact with Cody on one phone, Manzanares called on a second phone to the tower, alerting controllers they had an inbound plane flying electronically blind.
Cody had the advantage of an iPad app that showed him his position, which he could then pass on to Manzanares, who relayed it to the tower and the tower passed along instructions to Cody via Manzanares.
One key piece of information was the condition of Cody’s landing gear, so Manzanares had to arrange for him to fly by the tower. Controllers ascertained the gear on the single-engine Bonanza was down after the fly-by cleared Cody to land.
It was only near the end of their 25-minute conversation that the men introduced themselves.
He was Gene, Manzanares told Cody as the pilot homed in on the runway, then, as the aircraft’s wheels touched down, he said, “Welcome back to the ground.”
The two met Wednesday at West Star Aviation, where Cody’s plane was repaired and readied to fly. “This guy saved my life,” Cody enthused after meeting Manzanares.
Calling TSA customer service might not have been the obvious choice, but it worked out, Manzanares said.
“He called the right number because I had access to everything he needed,” Manzanares said. “I would fly with (Cody.) He did everything right as far I can tell.”