Gabrielle Palmas: Surviving a Midair Collision
Thanks for joining us. Thanks for having me. You were in an interesting situation and you and I were Were chatting about it not too many people have survived a mid air you did. Can you tell us all about that absolutely so thankfully not many three hundred? Our pilots have experienced talking to the FAA and the NTSB but In October twenty twelve. I found myself in that exact situation to give some background. I fly out of Phoenix and a few different airports here where we have some of the best flying weather in the United States and in the world so with that comes a whole bunch of traffic air traffic. We have eight general aviation airports within thirty nautical miles of each other. And there's a lot of international students here with training academies and things tend to get busy when it's a beautiful day outside a very busy area. You've got all the airport you mentioned you. Of course got Phoenix International. And just outside of that. You've got Luke Air Force Base which is a training base for the Air Force. So it is a busy area. Everybody trying to take advantage of that beautiful Arizona weather and along with that. We have very limited approaches that we can do when it comes to training. So there's only one I alas in the area that were really allowed to navigate by and the only other two are at Phoenix Sky Harbor and over it Gateway Airport so along with that we have a lot of intense training traffic heading down south to this one particular airport. Kasa grind and their sister when were transitioning through these areas on top of that we have practice areas so it gets to be a little crazy when it comes to all of these training academy airplanes in one spot. So there I was. I was up on a training flight with my chief pilot on a stage. Check to progress to my next step of training in my instrument and as we were flying and transitioning out of the practice area and heading toward the airport for practice approach. We were in that scary spot where you're not talking to either frequency yet. You're in the process of changing your in the process of getting yourself situated for an approach. So there's a lot happening. I was under the hood at the time and my chief pilot reached out for the controls and turned to the aircraft and dove down as fast as he could and we ended up hitting something and my initial thought was. Maybe we hit an airplane. But I'm thinking birds. Birds are probably going to be the best scenario here right birds. It's fine just birds and he told me calmly. I need you to take your hood off and I need you to look around to see if you see them so there was with the thought process of. Oh my gosh. We hit another airplane with people inside of it. Wow that's another level of intensity there you're under the hood you feel an impact. The instructor says take your hood off and now you take the hood off. You're just trying to get total laissez on on now having vision. And where are you? And I can't imagine that it was a fear of looking out to the right side. I can tell you that. Why is that where you felt the thump? Come from yes okay. The impact was from the right side of the wing. We lost three feet of our wing and a Piper Warrior and had no aileron control whatsoever after that. So not only. Were we trying to see if the other party survived? We were also trying to figure out. What do we do now? Do we get this aircraft on the ground as soon as possible. Yes okay do we. Head straight toward the airport. Because at that point we were aligned directly toward the Chandler airport where we're based or do we make smaller turns to head toward an abandoned airstrip. That's on reservation. Land Not really monitored by anybody but also much closer to us and less traffic possibilities because we were also thinking okay. It's just the wing but it could also be the landing gear. It could be the engine stopping at any moment. We don't know what else has been impacted. About what altitude were you guys in terms of AG L? When the collision occurred at about four thousand feet. Okay and it's a an awkward altitude to be at because you're in the process of shooting practice approach and not yet on with approach. But your right at that altitude Should you be at the five hundreds or should you be at the thousands? What are we doing here? So that was the most difficult struggle for us to is that. It's a transition point where you're descending from one to another but with us. We had just leveled off to start the approach and start talking to traffic control so I remember a styling in. Instead of contacting approach. We contacted our local tower because we figured that the local tower might have these guys up on their radar and they have a better internal contact to get down to our flight. School emergency services in the local area Chandler versus talking to Phoenix approach which was much further away. So all of these split-second decisions were being made. We didn't want to fly over houses. Were dealing with an airstrip in the middle of nowhere versus airports but the airstrip is closer. And how do we do this? We manipulate the airplane. Just using rudder so I can tell you I am beyond grateful. I wouldn't be here today. If my chief pilot had not been the one in the airplane with me because this man flies great lakes he flies pits he flies aerobatic and knows exactly the limitations of an aircraft especially in a state like this so immediately of course he was on the controls and once we landed We couldn't use any flaps obviously coming in because the Aileron had been jammed so much into the flap system and we just took every precaution. You're sitting there thinking about going back to the basics when something like this happens. You're cracking the door open. Just like you're taught in training your hands on the fuel selector valve to make sure that you're shutting that off as soon as you touch down you just go into that mode that we all practice for over and over again in emergency training as student pilots. All the way up to professionals know at any point. Did you ever see the other airplane? We never did air. Traffic control finally told us about a minute before we land that they were able to see them squawking seventy seven hundred so at least we knew at that point that they were alive before we landed. Okay but you hear the collision you never do. See Them. You're focused on flying your own airplane. The instructors got control of the airplane. Did you guys do a controllability check talks about now? You've got this airplane. You make the decision to go into Keila River Memorial. I think you mentioned on on the reservation. Was it relatively close to you. Where you just a few miles away from the airport. At that time we were so we were just a few miles to southeast of the airport. So perfectly lined up with the chandler that we were checking back to so. It took us about fifty to ninety degree turn. I can't remember the exact amount in order to get lined up with the runways that are over at. He'll river for us. During that time it was a matter of okay. Let's take a look. See what we can actually do. The airplane okay. The rudders are fine. Ailerons can't do it okay. What about flap controls? Nope totally jammed. Can I ask you? Did you know that were ineffective? Because you tried to use them in. Couldn't or did you just look out at them and decide? We're not even going to try that. Nope we tried to move the yoke around and nothing was working. You could move the from full left to right and nothing was working. Got It so no aileron control but you do have good pitch control and good rudder control of course The engine still operating normally correct. Okay and you're at four thousand feet above the he'll river memorial. So you looking at the map here you do. What looks like probably a left hand. Turn and begin. Descending towards the river memorial is that right correct it was get on the ground as fast as you can power idle since we have zero flaps worse case scenario if we're high weaken slip it and just pray at this point though we get this thing on the ground safe and you have to do much turning or you rudder over in the direction of he'll river and you were pretty much set up on a final approach there or how did you guys do that. We were essentially on a long final at this point. Enough time to get stabilized and pay attention to how we were going to muscle this onto the ground. And how did you do that? Did you fly a pretty fast final because you were? I mean who knows what your real stall speed is now with three fear wing missing out on the right side right. How'd you handle the approach speed somewhat? I remember I remember My chief keeping it pretty straightforward and S. Just saying. You know. It doesn't matter how long it takes us to get stopped. We're going to aim toward the beginning of the runway. It's a relatively long runway because this airport at one point was used for aerial firefighting. So they still have some DC. Six's that are. They're just kind of abandoned so we knew we had a lot more room to work with and no houses on either end unlike the Chandler airport so we figured we just need to get close to the ground. We'll get it on the ground and then however long it takes us to get stopped and situated. We'll figure that out as we go. Yeah so it sounds like you keep your speed up. You came down and realize you had a long runway. The winds can get pretty strong out there in Arizona were the wind factor at all. Thankfully not because this was October so October is some of our most mild weather in Arizona. It's the transition period between when we get all of those storms coming in. The monsoon season has wrapped up for the most part and then October becomes that seventy degree weather until we reach March. Beautiful Time of year to fly out there and so That was a lucky break for you that it happened there when you're not worried about the heat or the wind or density altitude too much so you guys came down final. Kept your air speed up. You come over the runway and then just from there as normal as he could make it around out of flare and touchdown correct yet as normal as we could make it and as soon as we got on the ground immediately. Shut everything down. Fuel selector valve turned off and get out of the airplane as fast as we can just in case and I can't tell you how fast we both dropped to the ground just to make sure that both of us were okay that you know okay. We're on the ground. It's fine now. We can start thinking about everything that comes along with this.