WILKES-BARRE — Dr. David Cooper said he wasn’t scared at all, even though the plane he was piloting had lost power and he had to make an emergency landing with its landing gear unable to lock last week.
“It was like being up there all alone like (Charles) Lindbergh,” Cooper said Tuesday. “I just had to get it on the ground without bumping into another airplane.”
Cooper made the emergency landing at Harrisburg International Airport in Middletown late Thursday afternoon. He was traveling alone.
Cooper, an orthopedic surgeon who owns The Knee Center on Kidder Street, was on his way to Hershey, where he had scheduled surgeries on Friday — appointments he kept despite the harrowing experience.
For most of the 25-minute flight from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport to Harrisburg, Cooper said it was uneventful. He was at about 8,000 feet and had just received clearance to go to 6,000 feet for his approach into Harrisburg — about 10 minutes away.
“After that, things started to go bad real quickly,” he said.
His single, jet-engine Beech Bonanza — converted from a piston-driven engine — began to oscillate and the electrical system began to shut down. In a matter of minutes, Cooper said, the plane, valued at $750,000 and one of only 40 in the world, was without electrical power.
He said the jet engine never lost power, but he was flying an aircraft with no communication that was undetectable on radar. The airport couldn’t track him and other planes in the air would not know he was there.
Cooper used a hand-held radio to notify the airport he was going to make an emergency landing. He used a hand-held GPS device to help get him to the airport. He also was able to use the towers at Three Mile Island, located adjacent to the airport, to guide him.
Cooper said he was able to keep the plane level as he manually cranked the landing gear down. However, he was unable to know if the gear locked in place. When he hit the runway, the landing gear collapsed because it wasn’t locked.
“I felt the best thing was to get the plane on the ground,” he said. “I had a normal approach and the airport had the fire engines out in case of a problem.”
Cooper said the landing went well, despite being unable to use flaps to slow the plane. He said the plane veered slightly off the runway and sparks caused a small grass fire.
“I came in at a higher speed than normal,” he said. “I was uninjured, but the plane sustained between $100,00 and $200,000 worth of damage.”
Cooper said sheet metal was damaged, but the largest expense will be in tearing down the engine. He said the Federal Aviation Administration will investigate to determine what caused the electrical system to quit.
The 25-year licensed pilot said it will take four months to repair the aircraft at Seamans Airport in Factoryville.
Cooper said he flies all over the U.S. and can’t wait to get back into the air.
“Pilots, like surgeons, solve problems,” he said. “In this case, you accept your fate and make the most of it.”
What will Cooper take away from this experience? He said he was concerned about encountering another aircraft.
“Well, you learn how you react in an emergency,” he said. “It’s interesting; I didn’t panic and I had no fear — just determination. I was confident I was going to get the plane and myself on the ground safely.”