Thursday June 22, 2006
Low visibility is no way to fly!
After taking off fully topped with fuel (anticipating flying to Kit Carson), Michael and I initially had a strong tailwind. That petered out and soon we encountered two low lying bands of clouds. I descended a few hundred feet to fly just below the first band, then regained altitude and encountered the next band, much lower, 20 minutes later. I dropped down once again, this time to about 150 agl (much too low for my comfort) and followed a dirt road for a few miles, keeping a sharp eye out for silos, cell phone towers and power lines. The band finally ended, and I ascended again.
The closer to ground the stronger the headwind, so it made sense to climb. Soon another bank of clouds appeared, and it looked as if it wasn't very broad, so I decided to fly above it, reasoning that by the time I reached Flagler it would be behind me... It wasn't to be.
As I puttered east with the cloud bank moving north, it became apparent that the clouds were growing more dense. Although flying above these clouds was beautiful beyond description, it was obvious the clouds extended for an unknown distance ahead, and I couldn't count on them clearing by Flagler or Kit Carson. I looked back, and the clouds extended as far as I could see in that direction as well. This is the type of situation no PPCer ever wants to face. I decided the only prudent course of action was to descend. If the ceiling below the clouds was high enough I had enough fuel to make it to Flagler. If it was too low I'd land.
I won't try to describe what was going through my head as I cut power to idle and descended into the clouds. (I'd first checked the GPS to be sure there were no high towers in the area.) My eyes were searching below for any sign of the surface. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity (but was more likely two or three minutes) a field of wheat stubble suddenly popped into view through the mist. I was less than 100 feet agl. I fire walled the throttle to stop the descent, and looked for a reasonable place to land. In the back of my mind I was terrified I'd "find" a silo, tower, or power lines. As I was flying over this field of stubble I spotted a dirt road a few hundred feet to the north, and headed in that direction.
As I approached the road a line of telephone poles materialized out of the mist, and I pushed hard on the left steering tube, and my left hand shot out and hauled in steering line. I pulled a 180 and missed the lines by 100 feet. I was now lined up into the wind, spotted an area of green "grass" in the field, and landed without incident in that patch.
I called Michael to let him know I'd landed, and it turns out he too had landed, only a few miles from my location. He had already called Rusty, who was on his way to pick him up. A few minutes after I landed a man drove by, stopped (as I was less than 100 feet from the road), and was kind enough to give directions to Rusty so he could pick me up as well.
It turns out we'd landed not far from Limon (LIC), which was one of the airports we had designated as an alternate stop. So we didn't get quite as far as we'd planned today, but everyone landed safely and tomorrow we'll push on.