Here is the headline in the newspaper: "Plane Lands Itself in Hayfield as Pilot Slumbers."
Its December, the weather is cold, and the pilot - a physician with a Private Pilot license and Instrument rating - has taken off from Great Bend, KS enroute to Topeka, KS in daylight VFR conditions. He has 553 hours in the Piper Comanche 400 aircraft including 58 hours of actual instrument time. The pilot had climbed to 5,500 feet mean sea level, trimmed the aircraft for cruise, set the GPS navigation system, engaged the autopilot and then switched the fuel selector lever to the left auxiliary fuel tank.
So far so good, right?
Well.... not so good! At around 9:30am Central Standard Time the aircraft touched down in a flat hay field near Caro, MO in a wings level attitude and then slid approximately 525 feet before running into a fence. The groggy pilot awoke from a deep sleep with a throbbing headache and, thinking himself still airborne, began going through his pre-landing check list. Within a few minutes he realized that the right wing of the aircraft was nearly severed from the aircraft by a tree, but that the main part of the aircraft remained intact. Of course, the engine had stopped when it ran out of fuel, which explains why no one heard the aircraft gliding into the open hay field. Once aware of his surroundings, the pilot extricated himself from the aircraft and walked to a farm house about 1/4 mile away.
How did this happen?
Carbon monoxide poisoning from a cracked muffler had allowed the odorless, colorless deadly gas to seep into the cockpit, causing the pilot to fall asleep. Had the engine continued operating for another 30 minutes and the results might have been even worse. By then the pilot would probably have been dead. For this reason it is important to your good health and continued life to make sure the muffler on your aircraft has no cracks, and to install a carbon monoxide detector in the cockpit to warn you of danger. Until next time keep your wings straight and level Hersch! JetAviator7 If there were no risks it probably would not be worth doing. I certainly believe an airplane is capable of killing you, and in that sense I respect it. — Steve Ishmael, NASA Test Pilot
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