By CHERIL VERNON
A small aircraft pilot safely made an emergency landing at the Palestine Municipal Airport shortly after 5 p.m. Thursday as emergency personnel were on standby at the scene after the pilot reported problems with his landing gear.
Palestine pilot Jim Wells, owner of Pumping Services Inc., landed his Cessna 210 on a runway, skidding onto the grass just off the runway at about 5:09 p.m. Thursday. He and passenger Donna Jordan did not have any injuries.
“God was in control of this one — he did everything perfectly, he couldn’t have done any better landing,” his wife Candis Wells told the Herald-Press as tears swelled in her eyes after he landed the plane safely.
Emergency personnel were first informed of a pilot having issues with landing gear at 3:45 p.m. Thursday.
Emergency personnel responding to the scene included troopers from the Texas Department of Public Safety, firefighters from the Palestine Fire Department, Westside Volunteer Fire Department and Montalba Volunteer Fire Department, officers from the Palestine Police Department and the Palestine City Marshal.
Also responding were City of Palestine Emergency Management Coordinator Schelby Wells, Palestine EMS paramedics, Anderson County Precinct I Constable Doug Lightfoot, Anderson County Precinct 3 Constable Kim Dickson, as well as crews from Trinity Mother Frances Flight for Life and PHI Air Medical from Corsicana.
“We got a call that a pilot was reporting that he was having trouble with his plane’s landing gear,” Palestine Fire Chief Alan Wilcher said. “We responded to the scene along with Westside VFD and Montalba VFD. Westside provided a tanker truck and a pumper truck and Montalba provided a tanker in case extra water was needed. Westside also donated their foam pack, which was sprayed around the plane at the scene.”
Wilcher said the pilot was trying to work his landing gear.
“The front and right ones were working fine, but the left one was not locking. You would normally pump it 30 to 50 times to lock it and he said he had tried 100 times and it was just not responding,” Wilcher said. “(The pilot) did an excellent job of landing. He said he had even popped his door just before landing, so in case they needed a path out it would be available.”
Uniquely, Trinity-Mother Francis Flight for Life, which has a base in Palestine, also had a chopper on the scene and one of its pilots was a small engine pilot as well, Wilcher said.
“They followed the plane around to be their ‘eyes in the sky’ and let them know what was happening. They had their very own angel up there,” Wilcher said. “The PHI helicopter was also at the scene in case another was needed.”
Jim Wells, who has been flying for 12 years and has 550 flight hours, said he and his passenger had just left the Palestine airport — “just joy riding, a pleasure flight.”
“When we came back in to land, the landing gear wouldn’t drop even after I made several attempts,” he said.
After emergency personnel were alerted to the situation, Jim Wells was advised to fly around in a circle around the airport to burn off some of the fuel in case of a crash landing.
“I tried several emergency procedures as instructed by a professional pilot to get the gear to drop,” Jim Wells said, noting that his passenger was a “real trooper” — especially for this being her first time to fly in a light airplane.
At one point while trying to burn the fuel in his left tank, the engine on the plane died and he had to switch it to the other tank, then restart. He noted that it seemed like forever at the time waiting on the plane to restart.
“I did a normal landing, but held off as long as I could to burn the fuel,” Jim Wells said.
His wife was alerted to the situation about 3:30 p.m. Thursday when Jordan called her from the air.
“She said something was wrong with the plane’s landing gear and I could tell she was shaking. I told her I was on my way,” Candis Wells said.
DPS Trooper Brent Taylor said he himself has a few flight hours in and gave credit to the pilot for the job he did landing.
“He did a great job accessing the situation and following through,” Taylor said. “Everybody at the scene did what they were supposed to do. Trinity Mother Frances Flight for Life didn’t have to help, but they did, giving the pilot advice on different things to try. It was an emergency situation that turned out to be an emergency landing.”
Taylor stayed in contact with the Federal Aviation Administration during the incident. An airplane mechanic was expected to arrive on the scene Thursday night to look over the aircraft.