Every pilot remembers that often gut-wrenching feeling when the CFI reaches over, retards the throttle and announces a practice engine failure. “Now what do you do?” Get it down in one piece, of course, is the unspoken answer.
But instructors don’t practice engine failures only because it’s required in the Airman Certification Standards. They guide other pilots through this learning experience to be sure they’ll understand what they’re up against if the engine actually quits.
For pilot and CFI John Korinke, a nighttime IFR arrival at Chicago Executive Airport (KPWK) a few weeks ago made all the engine-failure practice with students worthwhile.
While being vectored for the RNAV Runway 16 approach, Korinke said he’d begun noticing the oil pressure running in the yellow on the Cessna 210 he was flying alone. He remembered the engine acceleration had also become sluggish, enough clues to him that he began searching the GPS for the nearest airport just as Chicago Approach cleared him for the approach. That was also the moment when a connecting rod exited the engine’s crankcase following a loud bang. The cockpit also briefly filled with smoke. Making the event even more than a little taxing was the local cloud base of 500-700 feet that followed a few days of lingering rain. The emergency happened at 5:30 p.m. local time which also meant there was no daylight left to help.
Korinke said he immediately set best glide speed and declared an emergency with Chicago Approach. The ORD controller told Korinke something the pilot had already figured out … a small airport lay about two miles ahead, except of course the 210 was still in the clouds.
When the aircraft did break out, Korinke saw nothing but darkness initially in the sparsely populated area about 40 miles north of Chicago. Then he caught sight of the rotating beacon at Campbell airport (C81) and then the lights of the 3,200-foot long Runway 9. Korinke said during an interview on the Simpleflight podcast that he was probably about 400-500 feet in the air as he set up for a visual approach. It didn't take long before the 1,600-hour pilot realized he was not going to make the runway.
Korinke thought about trying to stretch the glide, but quickly realized the reasons he was always telling students not to try. He also kept a close eye on his airspeed. Because the glide had already created a rapid descent rate and knowing the land in the open fields around the airport was probably soggy, Korinke decided not to lower the landing gear.
The 210 touched down tail first in the grass a few hundred feet short of the runway. There was however, a north to south drainage ditch between the airplane and the airport boundary.
This is where the gods of flying stepped in. Not long ago, someone had built a small bridge over the drainage ditch in line with the runway. The 210 slid across the bridge and came to rest near the Runway 9 numbers. Korinke, the only person aboard, was not injured. The aircraft sustained substantial damage to the tail, not to mention the engine.
Once he realized he was OK, Korinke called 911 from his cell phone. Help arrived at the remote airport about 15 minutes later. He next placed a call to his boss to tell him there was a little issue with the airplane. For Korinke, those years of training had paid off.