Wheel Falls Off Airplane During Student Solo

Teenaged student lands safely despite structural failure.

Piper PA-28 emergency landing
While student pilot Maggie Taraska landed on the runway, the Piper PA-28 was damaged as it swerved off into the grass.Beverly Regional Airport

17-year old student pilot Maggie Taraska did a fantastic job during a highly unusual solo flight this weekend at the Beverly Regional Airport (BVY), located just north of the Boston metropolitan area and under Logan International’s (BOS) Class B airspace.

The Piper PA-28 Taraska was flying had just lifted off Runway 09, one of two runways at BVY, on a solo flight when a Waco that was holding short for departure alerted the tower that “the right main wheel strut and wheel just fell off the airplane.” When the female tower controller informed Taraska of the problem and asked what her intentions were, she simply asked “can I circle back to land?”

While Taraska appeared shaken during the initial conversation, she worked to keep it together. The audio recording (via LiveATC.net) as she tells ATC that she is a student pilot on a solo flight is enough to make the hair on the back of your neck stand up. But through incredible teamwork and emergency preparedness of the people involved, Taraska got through the incident safely.

Major kudos go out to the tower controller, who kept incredibly calm and reassured Taraska that she would be fine. The controller asked Taraska to circle in the pattern while she summoned her instructor, John Singleton, to the tower. As Singleton calmly coached her, telling Taraska to treat this as any other landing, she sounded more and more relaxed on the audio recording. She landed on the runway; but, without the right wheel, the Piper was pulled off into the grass beside the runway. The airplane impacted some signs and lights, damaging the wings and nose section, but Taraska walked away with nothing more than a few aches and pains.

Ironically, said BVY airport manager Gloria Bouillon in an interview with Flying, there had just been an airshow at the airport the same day, which meant additional emergency preparedness with more safety personnel than usual. But that didn’t make the incident any less stressful.

“At another airport I’ve been involved in aircraft accidents and incidents and hearing that she was solo student pilot heightened the situation,” Bouillon said. “We had to prepare for the worst.” It was a big relief to everyone when Taraska was safely on the ground. “It was a community effort to make sure that it was as successful as possible,” Bouillon said.

The FAA is investigating what could have caused this highly unusual failure to happen. According to a report from local news station WCVB, the experience is not going to keep Maggie on the ground. She hopes to continue her training this week. Congratulations on a stellar job, Maggie!