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Pilot stays cool in a crisis

Tuesday, 1st September, 2009

By Andrew Robertson

A pilot who was forced to land his stricken ultralight aircraft on the Barrier Highway on Sunday said his emergency training got him through.

Pat Cuffe was flying to Broken Hill from White Cliffs when, just before sunset, his Jabiru J230 aircraft suddenly developed an engine problem. Mr Cuffe said he was about 15km from Broken Hill and gradually descending when the engine "just started running extra rough". "When things go wrong you have to make a decision," he said. The 53-year-old managed to set the plane down on the highway without incident and then used his mobile phone to contact authorities. Police immediately attended the scene and blocked the highway so Mr Cuffe could taxi the plane off the road. Mr Cuffe, who was the sole occupant, said it was his first emergency landing - and hopefully his last. "I've done close enough to 1,000 hours now and it's my first time," he said. The local businessman put his textbook landing down to his pilot training, which placed a lot of emphasis on emergency landings. But he said things could have ended differently if it had been dark. "We were right on sunset so light wasn't really an issue. But we were a bit lucky there was no traffic (and) there were no wires. "It would have been a Tattslotto job if it was dark." The plane landed just in front of a set of heavy vehicle Safe-T-Cam cameras. Mr Cuffe, who was in radio contact with another aircraft also approaching the airport, told the pilot he was going to land on the road. "I don't even know who the other pilot was." He wasn't sure what had caused his plane to lose power all of a sudden but said that mechanics were working on the problem yesterday. "We're not sure. There was plenty of fuel in it," said Mr Cuffe, who owns the plane with another local man, Bruce Church. "It might have been carburettor icing or we think a bit of a problem with one of the valves." A police spokesman yesterday praised Mr Cuffe's calm thinking. "He's done a marvellous job in landing safely."

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