'Smoke in the Cockpit' With Greg Soter

There I Was...


Gregg welcome to the there. I was podcast. Thank you Richard. It's a delight to be with you. I appreciate the request. I do want to warn our listeners. This particular incident does involve a fatality and so You know we may deal with some sensitive subjects as we go on so please be aware of that. Do you mind Greg. Sharing with us The events of those day in that one seventy two and tell us what happened. I'd be happy do things Richard couple of years ago. In the spring of the year I had been invited by a local High Tech Company. Here in Utah to fly for them. They manufacture factor very sophisticated radar gear. That has to be tested from the air and they owned a couple of older well experienced well seasoned one seventy twos and and basically what they have their pilots dues. They had taken all the backseat equipment out the seats and so forth and stacked their gear in the backseat area luxury and they would periodically have pilots go up and flight test tracks to test their radar. which has had to be tested from the air it typically that have applied it left seat of course and one of their engineers most typically a non pilot in the right seat and we would go up and fly I track after track after track. these were pretty challenging tracks. You have to keep the position to the airplane Within dozens thousands of feet so that was a little bit challenging but beyond that they were just absolutely mindless well. One morning. June gorgeous gorgeous late. June morning I had been asked to go out and do one of these flights for them so got out to the airport Pre flighted both planes. Since I didn't know which the two I was going to be fine and while I was waiting for the engineering crew to get there and Ended up flying one of the planes Got The equipment On the plane and hooked up up and tested ready to go feel the plane to full fuel and got off the ground and headed down to a little place in the nearby mountains. Utah's generally early mountainous area and We were assigned to go down. Probably I don't know fifty sixty miles away from the Spanish Spanish Work Airport. Where would you parted and to fly these tracks you mentioned? These tracks are very specific profiles in terms of altitudes tatooed headings and perhaps air speeds even and your whole job is to fly these as precisely as you can so that they can measure the accuracy of the reiter later on board is that is that what you're doing that is exactly true. Drove me nuts. I mean I'M A. I'm a reasonably good pilot but I had not been used to maintaining headings and position and so forth within dozens of feet but they've got pretty sophisticated. GPS gear there to to show you where you need to be and yeah so very very precise trout interesting okay. We had been flying I just North South tracks and then or being circular tracks we'd been flying nine for oh I guess Yearly two hours and the engineer in the right seat said Greg we've got smoke in the cockpit Pitt. And that certainly caught my attention. I looked down between my legs and Sure enough there was smoke laughing up Under the seat between my I feed and his feet. No I'm thinking through a one. Seventy two and down on the floor of a typical one seventy two. There's nothing there that would would create an electrical fire. There's no real wires running underneath there to my knowledge is that correct that is correct and let me add to that my first action that I remember taking was reached over and of course in one seventy to go on the speed we were going. You can open the windows Heasley enough gorgeous summer day so I Often my window on the left side and reached over open his window and I also opened. The little soup can vent. I called the Campbell Soup. Net up at the wing root on my aside and that did a very effective job of evacuating the smoke. So that was first thing and I don't remember a time during this whole incident when I smoke accumulated enough to create visibility problems inside the carpet and now at that time were you able to discern was it. Electrical will smoke. Was it engine related smoke. You know the difference between engine related usually black smoke electricals typically light-colored smoke any of that going through your mind were able to. I select what the smoke was and where it's coming from absolutely I. As soon as I had the vending issue dealt with that took me probably a second to second something like that. I look over my right shoulder to the back of the airplane because there was nothing coming up around the firewall but I looked over my right shoulder to the back. The plane rolled. The electric equipment was and Dang I look back there and there was a great big open flame on top of their equipment. Wow you could see that did you can actually see the flame. Oh it was probably six to eight inches high and maybe three to four inches in diameter just burning away just burning away like a little campfire campfire at some point. In time I had been taught if you have got an open flame in an airplane I order business is get that that plane on the ground right now that. Yeah so that thought occurred to me and and this next part. I'm a little embarrassed about but My the first impression was to turn north and head back to the airport from which we had departed which was probably. I don't know ten minutes away. Something like that and I had actually started the north turn and then immediately I thought to myself soda. That is a bad idea. You could easily be a a flaming torch by the time. You got back to Spanish fork to land this thing so I've been in that idea again in about a second and a half then my next Idea was that well. I'm getting this plane on the ground so I started looking around for an emergency landing spot. Couple of factors actress entered into that We were in some Pretty pretty significant foothills I. I won't call them. Mountains back year amounting to us is ten or twelve thousand feet high but these were pretty significant foothills and as I looked around to find the emergency landing spot. I didn't see anything that I thought was appropriate. Appropriate looked left. Looked right now now nothing there. Nothing there of course they still had power no problem there. But because I couldn't spot got a place that I thought was suitable. We had a two lane highway immediately. Below us is highway. Eighty nine and I hit also always been taught that off road or better options than on-road because Traffic of course and be possible. The power lines. Well I'd never had this experience ever had the choice or opportunity decide. Well do I land on the road or do I land somewhere else but given that there were no obvious places elsewhere. I decided well eighty nine. It is that's where I'm going and I'll take my chances. In retrospect I went back down to that but I've been at that site on several occasions since and have looked around and stood there and looking said well Greg you know you could landed ended there you could land it over. There could landed here there and That's Monday morning quarterbacking. I guess but I in retrospect if they're probably worth some places I could have landed might have You know done some pretty serious damage to the plane but not nearly as serious as what turned out to be the case. Yeah the the great difference being you came back when you were at zero nuts one g and all the hindsight available to you without the stress of being airborne in an opened fire in your airplane so a little different situation to assess all the factors that were in front of you in such a short period of time. Thank you Richard. That was very generous. Assume you well you know. I do think it's a hallmark of aviation one of the things that we've seen time and time again on this podcast. Is People like yourself come in an regardless of how well they handled it and the situation ended up. They'll go back and say you know what I could have done what I should have done and I think. That's so admirable admirable and such a powerful part of aviation that no matter how well we do or how we fly. We always go back and debrief ourselves to perfection. And I think it's one of the reasons why we've just continued to progress and become safer and safer jelly aces. That's a big part of our culture. Well I agree and Going back to Being in the air with this open flame in the cockpit after I decided that I was going to land on eighty nine. I decided well I'm GonNa do a quick quick little Mayday broadcast I hear so I quickly dialed up one. Twenty one five and did a mayday call outs in Our number location the fact that we had a fire on board and I was intending to doing -mergency landing was extremely comforting to have some southwest pilot respond immediately to my mayday call. Don't know who that guy was. But he's brother and I love him and I'll I'll thank him forever for Make can hit response and I as I recall he said he would notify center or notify. ATC TC so as soon as I was over I decided okay. I'm I'm done with radio. It's time to fly this airplane. I'm guessing that I was probably at about fifteen hundred yell at that point in time when you first notice the flame or probably I think I was at two thousand when I first noticed the flame. Okay and by the by the time I had Discovered what was going on. You know started my turn that I aborted and made the the mayday call. I'm and this is I guess I I wish I had better memory of the details of this but I'm thinking I was at about fifteen hundred assuming I would have descended and maybe five hundred feet a medic. That gave me three minutes to deal with this whole situation Hey you know that in one sense that's a long time

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