BANGOR, Maine — When a Bangor flight instructor took a newly licensed pilot on his checkout flight the night of June 12, something went awry.
“We got to around 1,500 feet and we heard a loud bang and the plane started shaking,” said Rick Eason, faculty adviser for the University Flying Club in Orono, who took off with the pilot at around 7:25 p.m.
After the two made a safe emergency landing at Bangor International Airport, Eason said he was soon contacted by the airport’s control tower, “and they asked if I lost something from my plane.”
As Eason soon figured out by comparing data from his GPS device with the time of the incident, as well as a reported call to Bangor Fire Department’s Station 6, a small piece of the Cessna 172 did break off. It crashed through the roof and into the front room of a Bangor man’s house on Peruvian Way in the Judson Heights neighborhood, according to the Bangor Fire Department.
“He said it was still hot,” Interim Fire Chief Rick Cheverie said.
The unidentified falling object turned out to be a piston wrist pin, a part 1 inch in diameter and 4 inches long that connects the arm and head of a piston inside a plane engine’s cylinder, Cheverie said. It fell through the attic and sheetrock ceiling of the house, leaving a noticeable mark on the hardwood floor of the foyer.
The fire chief said no one in the house was hurt, but he estimated the house had more than $5,000 in damage.
“It could have been a much different outcome,” Cheverie said, referring to a child who was cycling near the house at the time of impact.
Eason said the homeowner, who asked not to be identified, was 15-20 feet away when the small destructive object came crashing through his roof.
“We’ve never had anything like this. We haven’t had any in-flight problems like this,” the flight instructor said.
Eason said he reported the incident to the Flight Standards District Office in Portland, a regional division of the Federal Aviation Administration, in accordance with FAA regulations.
“We don’t know why it happened,” said Soren Hansen, the flying club’s mechanical officer.
Apparently, Hansen said, one of the engine’s six cylinders split in half and the piston pin shot out and crashed through the Bangor man’s roof. The Cessna 172 is one of the flying club’s two available aircraft.
The maintenance officer said this plane in particular was “probably” getting close to its overhaul period, a recurring time when mechanics take the engine apart for maintenance. Hansen said he estimated it was around hour 1,500 out of the 1,800-hour limit for time between maintenance checks.
FAA spokesman Jim Peters said a federal inspector has confirmed the details of the incident, and the FAA is now waiting for Eason to send a report after the aircraft is repaired. Peters said the FAA is also awaiting contact with the Bangor homeowner to record the details of the accident.
It’s important for FAA to record all details of an incident like this, because if similar occurrences have been reported, it could point to a larger manufacturing problem with the plane’s model, Peters said. However, this does not appear to be the case in this instance, he added.
Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly identified the falling object. It was not a piston connecting rod that fell through the Bangor man's roof but a piston wrist pin, according to the Bangor Fire Department.