Flight instructor credited with saving lives of himself and his student in Belfast plane crash

A crew from Columbia Air Service in Trenton worked Wednesday to dismantle a single-engine Cessna that crash-landed on Route 52 the previous night. Neither the pilot nor his 17-year-old flying student were hurt in the accident, but the plane was totaled, according to owner David Vroom of Maine Coastal Flight Center Inc.
A crew from Columbia Air Service in Trenton worked Wednesday to dismantle a single-engine Cessna that crash-landed on Route 52 the previous night. Neither the pilot nor his 17-year-old flying student were hurt in the accident, but the plane was totaled, according to owner David Vroom of Maine Coastal Flight Center Inc. Buy Photo
Posted March 21, 2012, at 5:12 p.m.
Last modified March 21, 2012, at 6:39 p.m.
A Cessna plane that made a hard emergency landing on Route 52 in Belfast on Tuesday evening.
Michelle D. Christian
A Cessna plane that made a hard emergency landing on Route 52 in Belfast on Tuesday evening.
A crew from Columbia Air Service in Trenton worked Wednesday to dismantle a single-engine Cessna that crash-landed on Route 52 the previous night.
A crew from Columbia Air Service in Trenton worked Wednesday to dismantle a single-engine Cessna that crash-landed on Route 52 the previous night.

BELFAST, Maine — The single-engine Cessna that made an emergency crash-landing on Route 52 in Belfast on Tuesday night was in bad shape the next day as a crew worked to disassemble its broken fuselage and mangled wings.

But the good news is that flight instructor Nathan Jordan, 31, of Ellsworth and his 17-year-old student were not hurt, according to officials who went to the scene after the crash.

“The licensed pilot did an absolutely remarkable job,” said Chief Mike McFadden of the Belfast Police Department. “He was the hero of the day. He saved his own life and the life of that 17-year-old student with the way he maneuvered the plane.”

Efforts Wednesday to reach Jordan were unsuccessful.

The plane had taken off from the Hancock County-Bar Harbor Airport in Trenton and was en route to Portland with the student at the controls when it began experiencing engine problems about 8 p.m., McFadden said.

The duo figured out that the Belfast Municipal Airport was the closest to them, and they prepared to make an unscheduled landing, but couldn’t get the runway lights activated.

“They overshot the runway because they couldn’t see it,” he said.

Then the plane lost all power in the engine and lost altitude while heading toward Route 1, the busy coastal thoroughfare. Jordan veered over a car that was driving toward Route 1 but couldn’t avoid hitting a telephone pole on Route 52.

“He sheared the right wing off and caused the plane to catapult down,” McFadden said.

The Cessna landed upside down, partially on Route 52 and partially on the sidewalk.

Several people called police to let them know about the crash, and when first responders arrived it looked bad.

“There was fuselage on the sidewalk and shrapnel from the wing in the road,” McFadden said. “Fuel was leaking out from the ruptured tank on that right wing.”

Police were joined by the Belfast Fire Department and the Belfast Ambulance, whose responders checked out Jordan and the teenage student and determined that they weren’t injured. Firefighters worked to contain the fuel spill before the 10 or 15 gallons could get into storm drains, McFadden said.

They also shut Route 52 down for 2½ hours while officials worked to get in touch with the Federal Aviation Administration. Federal agents recommended that emergency responders turn the plane over and get it out off the road.

“We literally pushed the plane down the middle of the road,” McFadden said.

They parked it at nearby Walsh Field where David Vroom, president and chief pilot of Maine Coastal Flight flying school, paced around it the next day as workers from Columbia Air Service of Trenton began to dismantle it.

Vroom said officials from the FAA visited Wednesday to examine the crashed plane. He said he didn’t want to speculate as to the cause of the mechanical malfunction.

“The FAA has to figure that out,” he said.

That agency would notify the National Transportation Safety Board about the crash, he said.

Vroom said that Jordan did a “very good job” in the air.

Another flying student, Jake Fleming of Belfast, watched for a while Wednesday afternoon as the dismantling progressed. He said that he has been taking lessons for a couple of years with Maine Scenic Airways in Belfast, and the sight of the totaled plane wasn’t too off-putting.

“Flying is fantastic. It’s exciting,” he said. “You see a crash like this — they made it. They lived. They saved their lives. The plane is expendable.”

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