In May 12 IssueBy Derek AaronTimes Journal Editor
It wasn't the ending to Mother's Day that the Mann family expected but it was definitely one they'll take. The Russell Springs family of six escaped tragedy Sunday night at the Russell County Airport after the aircraft they were on experienced mechanical failure before finally landing unscathed to numerous emergency personnel and law enforcement as well as numerous family and friends.
Rick Mann, who was piloting the 1985 Piper PA-46 Malibu, was joined aboard the plane by his wife, Susan, and their four children, Barton, Brooklyn, Braxton and Blake. The family had flown to Indiana to visit Rick's mother and grandmother before returning to Russell County around 9 p.m. Sunday.
"Everything was fine on the way up but then on the way back, shortly after takeoff, we started experiencing a problem with my hydraulic pump," he said. "I was trying to follow all of the procedures I had been taught by the mechanic and my pilot operating handbook … it was just kind of a nuisance all the way back."
Mann said he kept getting a gear warning accompanied by the hydraulic light coming on.
"When I would push the hydraulic pump circuit breaker to cycle the breaker it would typically come back with pressure," he said. "Well, when I did that same thing on my long final approach from the north, at about 10 miles out, the pressure did not come up."
Mann said with no hydraulic pressure he continued to cycle the breaker in hopes it would release the plane's landing gear but had no such luck.
"I finally realized I was going to have to do a manual extension of the gear," he said. "So I slowed to 100 knots and pulled the manual gear extension lever and put the gear lever down."
From that point, Mann said he actually had to shake the plane to get the gear down.
"When I did that the main gear, the gear under both wings, came down in the lock position and for a retractable gear airplane you are looking for three green lights, the left and right main and the center green light, which is for the nose gear," he said. "So I had two green lights, the left and right gear but I did not have the green light for the nose gear."
At that point Mann phoned a pilot friend of his to come out to the airport to look as he did a low pass to see if he could see what the status of the nose gear was. Mann's friend could tell the nose gear was hanging out beneath the plane but was not locked in position.
It was at this time that Mann rose to 4,000 ft. and slowed the plane down in hopes that the gear would lock into place against lesser air pressure, something he had done in his training. Upon slowing down to a stall at around 75 knots, he tried again to manually swing the gear over and when he did the nose gear locked into position.
"My oldest son, Barton, who was sitting in the co-pilot's seat, yelled 'it's green,'" he said. "I was looking for three green lights so the third green light was a great sight, a blessing."
Mann credited Barton with being an encouragement throughout the ordeal as he kept his composure and did not panic, even when he was hearing all the traffic about the flight over the headset.
"In the back, my wife and kids didn't know what was going on," he said. "They were a little disturbed and anxious."
He said what eventually calmed the family down was the talk of faith. Mann, who is the pastor at Fairview Baptist Church in Russell Springs, said his oldest daughter, Brooklyn, asked what was going to happen to them as they hovered thousands of feet in the air.
He said Susan told everyone that the worst case scenario was if they did crash land and didn't survive the family would instantly be in heaven with their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
"She told me when she said that it calmed everyone's spirit," he said. "My faith in Jesus Christ is precious to me and I'm so thankful for all the prayers."
He said he was receiving word on Monday of whole households stopping what they were doing Sunday night and praying for the family as word spread around the county of the incident unfolding.
"I know, without question, that the Lord used their prayers to help us through the situation," he said. "It was my faith in Him that kept me calm. Let's be realistic, I was planning on getting the plane on the ground safely, and that was my hope, but I had an expectation that it might not go so well and there was a possibility of even some or all of us not making it."
Mann said it was a tremendous comfort to him knowing where his family, who are all saved, would go, even in the darkest of circumstances.
"It gives me even a deeper appreciation for my faith in Jesus when you go through a situation like that," he said. Mann didn't declare an emergency but rather patiently waded through all his options before he, with help from the ground, was able to get the gear down and land without incident.
"I'm thankful for my mechanic, Jeff Leach, who has always taken the time to explain the systems of the airplane to me," he said. He commended Leach for the articulate descriptions of the plane's operations and ability to answer any question he had.
Mann received his pilot's license in September 2010 and began flying in July 2009. It wasn't until he had about 250 hours in the air before he got his license because he was learning in a retractable geared aircraft. But now, as an experienced pilot, he is aware of what could've happened.
As local emergency personnel and law enforcement gathered at the airport and with three emergency helicopters on standby, Mann said he was thankful for such a response.
"I was an Indiana State Police officer from 1990-1994 and I can honestly say I can't remember any incident that I worked where than were more emergency personnel that responded," he said.
Mann commended Deputy Sheriff Nick Bertram because once he got word of the situation; he was able to rally everyone together as the plane flew over the airport.
"I have the deepest appreciation for everyone's prayers and support because it was a comfort to know that if something did happen there was going to be people there ready to respond," he said.
Once finally on the ground, the family was greeted by family and friends with cheers, tears, hugs and jubilation.
"My legs were shaking a bit once I got off the plane but I was so tuned in to my faith," he said. "I knew people were praying. Paul said in his God-inspired writing to pray without ceasing and I can recall different times when I intentionally was asking the Lord to let this nose gear come out and help me to land safely. I was entrusting Him to do whatever He needed to do for His glory."
Mann said he had no reservations about going up again and piloting his plane once he gets it back in working order (there was no hydraulic fluid in the reservoir, meaning a possible blown line or leak or faulty pump) because he said he believed he had all the training and knowledge to continue operating his aircraft, despite Sunday's incident.
"Training in aviation is so thorough that I felt prepared with my training to handle this situation," he said.
With that being said, Mann said it may take his family a while before they are ready to go back up again.
Mann also credited his flight instructor, Eric Espinal, for his teachings as well as friend Jim Faller, who has flight experience, and helped out during the dilemma on site as well as all law enforcement and emergency personnel that were at the airport Sunday night.