Plane crash-lands in IC

BY BRYCE BAUER | JULY 23, 2009 7:15 AM

Crash-landing an airplane may sound like a fairly disorderly endeavor, but the pilot who brought his biplane down on an Iowa City street yesterday said the process is a bit more of balancing act.

Ron Miller, a Florida pilot who was flying a single-engine airplane from Grinnell to Long Island, N.Y., said only a few minutes passed between the moment he realized the motor in his Starduster Too SA-300 failed and when the aircraft hit the ground.

“They come down real fast when you lose the engine,” said Miller, who was not injured in the emergency landing.

In those few minutes, Miller, who also works as a test pilot, had to find an adequate place to land before the plane’s airspeed slowed too much to keep him aloft.

“If you have to hit trees, you have to hit trees,” he said, providing an example of the choices made in such incidents. While he was aware he was near the Iowa City airport, he said, he didn’t want to chance missing the runway and crashing into a populated part of the city.

So, instead, he chose the sparser stopping spot on North First Avenue, just east of Hickory Hill Park near Stuart Court. A speed-limit sign was decapitated in the process.

The crash blocked southbound traffic on North First Avenue for a while, said Iowa City police, who were notified of the accident around noon Wednesday. By 3:30 p.m., the plane — dented, with bent wings, but largely intact —was trucked to the Iowa City Airport. The plane is registered to an owner in Brooklyn, Iowa.

Miller, who was on his way back to Florida Wednesday evening, said he found the engine’s failure flummoxing and hopes to know the full cause today.

“It’s very, very rare,” he said with the same Southern drawl in which he later praised the people of Iowa City as being a very friendly population to crash into. No one was injured in the landing.

Historically aircraft accidents in Iowa City are rare. Since 1962, the earliest year for which data are available, 38 local civilian crashes have been recorded by the National Transportation Safety Board, not including Wednesday’s.

However, last year saw a spate of accidents — one fatal — when three aircraft went down in Iowa City between June and October. Those accidents broke a three-year period without incident.

Nationally there were 1,385 fixed-wing general-aviation accidents in 2007, the most recent year for which data from the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association are available. Fatalities occurred in 252 of those.

While the total number of crashes has decreased in the last decade, the accident rate — the number of cashes relative to total flight time — was the third highest since 1998 with 6.47 accidents occurring for every 100,000 hours of flights in 2007.

Despite their rarity, Miller said most pilots should be trained for the type of accident he experienced.

DI reporter Abe Tekippe contributed to this story.

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