OWLS HEAD, Maine — Peter Shorey was described as “one lucky man” by his instructor after the student pilot walked away from a flaming plane crash Sunday.
“He was truly, truly one lucky man,” Knox County Flying School instructor Edward Sleeper said Monday. “The plane caught fire immediately and was already going pretty good when he managed to pull himself out of the cockpit. He came climbing up the hill holding his head. He was walking and talking and quite lucid.”
Shorey, 40, of Newcastle needed 26 stitches to close the gash to his head suffered when his plane slammed into a low-lying bog area a few yards from the Knox County Airport runway. Shorey had been practicing soft-field takeoff maneuvers when “it pancaked, crabbed to the left and crashed,” Sleeper said. He said the plane was only about 10 feet off the runway when it came down.
Sleeper was nearby when the flying school’s 1968 Piper Cherokee crashed about 6:30 p.m. And though he and others arrived at the scene within minutes, carrying fire extinguishers, it was too late to save the wreck.
“There was nothing we could do but hope it didn’t explode,” Sleeper said. The single-engine plane, which just came back on the flight line after receiving a new motor, propeller and flight instruments, was a total loss.
Attempts to reach Shorey on Monday were unsuccessful, but Sleeper described him as “an excellent student” who intends to keep flying.
Shorey had completed the necessary solo tasks to obtain his pilot license and was scheduled to be checked out later this month, Sleeper said. The soft-field and short-field takeoff and landing maneuvers he was practicing Sunday are designed to mimic conditions on short or grass runways. The runway at Knox County Airport is paved.
Sleeper described the drill as “pilot skill enhancement maneuvers” that require the operator to hold the nose of the plane up to gather “optimum lift” as it taxis down the runway. He said Shorey had practiced for about an hour Sunday and was on his final try of the day when he ran into trouble.
“He said he did everything he was supposed to do when suddenly the plane started to wallow. It turned to the left and smashed into the ground,” Sleeper said. “That is probably the one kind of takeoff where if you get in trouble you’re in a box. It’s just something that can happen to airplanes.”
“It caught fire immediately because he had full power to the engine,” Sleeper said. The Piper Cherokee runs on 87-octane gasoline, a highly flammable fuel, he added.
The aircraft was insured. Its loss should not create any scheduling difficulties for the flying school, Sleeper said. Sleeper commended Knox County Deputy Sheriff Donna Dennison and the emergency personnel of the Owls Head and South Thomaston fire departments for their quick response.
Sleeper said Shorey was a dedicated student who completed his flight training requirements in nine months, instead of the year it takes most students.
“He wants to finish and get his license,” Sleeper said. “He loves flying and wants to keep flying, and I told him, `You will.”‘