Terror at thirteen thousand feet
Flying from Phoenix a few years ago on my way to Telluride Colorado, I survived a horrible incident.
I’d like to share the story.
Flying over mountain ranges can be tricky at times, particularly when inclement weather abounds. Bad weather, in this case however would be the reason for our trip, as it was mid-winter with the skiing season in the Colorado Rockies in full swing.
Our aircraft, a twelve seat turboprop known for its handling ability in rough air made my decision to fly on this day much easier.
We loaded our gear and took off.
After a couple hours without incident, Mt. Wilson came into view, a landmark signaling our flight was concluding.
It was time to descend due to our proximity to the field.
I contacted Telluride tower.
“Telluride tower, three Juliet Bravo checking in, we’re about eight miles out, requesting permission to land.”
“Three Juliet Bravo, I’ve got you at thirteen thousand and eight miles out, you’re approved for straight in on 8, Wind is 23 from 35 Proceed with caution, it’s snowing pretty heavy sir, wind gusts have been clocked at 50 plus.
Telluride airfield sits atop a 10,000 foot mountain with steep valleys on all sides.
We were at 13,000 feet, and eight miles away. The task at hand was to descend through the ‘soup’ by finding a hole in the clouds, thus making the field visible for final approach.
After a minute or so, a hole came into view, I nosed the aircraft through it as if threading a needle.
Alright, something is wrong I thought. Where’s the field?
All I could see was a snow capped mountain. No landing lights, strip, anything.
I radio’d the tower.
“Telluride approach, no joy on the field sighting, please advise conditions.”
“Uh, yeah, Juliet Bravo, you just flew over it, come about try it again.”
Just then the plane shuddered, severely buffeted by turbulence. Obviously a mountain thermal I thought, pretty normal. Then another.
This one was not normal.
The aircraft, rocked by a strong cross-wind gust, was nearly inverted and on its way to a full three hundred sixty degree roll before leveling off.
Tense, and focused on hand flying the aircraft, the auto-pilot now switched off in order to land, I stole a quick glance at my wife to see how she had faired throughout the ordeal.
Another storm was brewing I would soon learn.
My wife, shaken from the incident was sitting bent over, clutching something in her hand.
“You ok?” I asked.
“I’m alright…but do you want to explain these?” as she held up a pair of pink panties in her trembling left hand.
The near-roll was the least of my problems now. I was about to discover a new kind of terror.
Ice was building on the leading edges and my airspeed had fallen dangerously close to stall speed. I needed to regain airspeed quickly, and there was only one way to accomplish that, put the plane in a rapid descent….a nose dive.
A lot of things were going through my head at that moment.
Like when to inflate the ice boots.
Or how far to descend before pulling up.
And whether my wife was thinking I’d finally gone mental—the panties pushing me over the edge—trying to kill my way out of this predicament.
It worked. Eighty five knots and climbing…I began making slow circles around the mountain as the airspeed indicator finally rose above 100.
I now had two tasks. Or make that three.
Find the field, land, and try to convince my wife of my innocence.
Still no sign of the field as a voice came over the radio. It was the tower.
“Juliet Bravo, what are you doing up there? You flew over the field twice and it looked like you dove down into the valley, are you alright sir?”
“I’m fine sir, just a little turbulence and ice, but we’re fine, thanks…we’ll be down in a few.”
“Juliet Bravo, look for the snow plow at the end of the field and line up with it.”
He had to be wondering if I knew what I was doing and whether or not he’d be spending the rest of his week filling out NTSB reports while they investigated the crash.
After all, I had just done a fly-by, nose dived the aircraft into the valley in what probably appeared on his radar screen as a death spiral, leveled, circled the mountain a couple more times followed by another fly-by.
He had to wondering what my skill level was as pilot, and rightfully so having not flown in over a year.
I didn’t need to, I had a full-time pilot on call.
But not anymore since firing him a week earlier, catching him use the plane to go to Vegas with a load of friends for the weekend…one of whom I suspect was at one time in possession of a pink pair of panties.