How pilots react to emergencies like the recent incident at Harris Hill
BIG FLATS, N.Y. (WENY) -- No one was injured when a glider made an emergency landing at the Harris Hill Driving Range in Big Flats over the weekend. The Chemung County Sheriff's Office said the incident happened because the glider pilot and the flying student weren't able to get low enough to safely land on the runway at Harris Hill.
"We clearly had an off-field landing. The glider came down on the driving range near the amusement park which is a couple hundred feet below the level of our field," said Private Pilot for Harris Hill Soaring, Michael Goldstein, who also sits on the board of directors and is the director of marketing.
According to the Chemung County Sheriff's Office, the glider was piloted by a 67-year-old certified sailplane instructor with a 14-year-old girl who was taking a lesson. When the pilot discovered he couldn't make the runway, he attempted an emergency landing at the Harris Hill Driving Range nearby. During the landing attempt, he temporarily lost control of the glider, causing it to tip and damaging the wing and nose of the aircraft.
According to Goldstein, pilots train for all sorts of scenarios including emergency landings. He also said so far, there haven't been any emergency landing scenarios for the paid glider rides.
"We train for this. As you know, gliders don't have an engine, so you only have one shot at landing on the runway up at Harris Hill. We do a lot of training for situations in which we might be too high above the runway, maybe too low, or even too far away from the airport to safely make it back. You always want to come over the field with 1,000 feet to spare so you can set up for a nice, safe, stable approach to the runway," said Goldstein.
Goldstein said pilots don't fly if it's raining or if it's too windy. He said they train people for what happens if they're being towed into the air if the rope to the tow plane breaks, and where they put the glider down.
"We'll practice landing at our auxiliary field, which is at the base of Harris Hill. It's just to the west of the airport. We also practice landing on the grass strip at Elmira," said Goldstein.
Goldstein said at a minimum to become an instructor, you need your private pilot license with 100 flights pilot and command (which means you're the one with the decision-making responsibility for the flight), 25 hours of flight and glider time, you must be 18 years or older, and pass an FAA written exam.
Goldstein said during training, pilots come up with backup plans to know which areas are safe to land in case of an emergency. He also said people openly talk about past incidents and how they can take what happened and do a better job in the future.
"Let's say a strong wind picked up and you're having a hard time. You're in a lightweight racing glider. Maybe you're having a hard time making it back to the field. You're always going to have a plan B in your head. You're always in the back of your head thinking I could land there," said Goldstein.
Goldstein said Harris Hill Soaring is conducting its own investigation into Saturday's incident. He said the FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board are conducting its own investigations as well. Goldstein said the goal of the investigations is to find out all of the decisions that led to the landing.