Oct. 8, 2020

Iconic aviation journalist Miles O’Brien gave a new name to a harrowing, dual-flameout Citation jet landing in 2019 – “The Save in Savannah” – to kick off a riveting virtual Safety Town Hall discussion NBAA held Oct. 7, as part of the association’s 2020 Safety Week.

NBAA President and CEO Ed Bolen got the session underway by honoring the Citation jet team – Air Trek, Inc. pilots Bruce Monnier and Gerald Downs – with the association’s inaugural Above and Beyond Award for their heroism in bringing the airplane, hobbled by contamination from diesel exhaust fluid (DEF), to a safe landing.

Bolen then turned things over to O’Brien, for a compelling, minute-by-minute replay of the experience by the pilots themselves, which unpacked the lessons applicable to the entire aviation community. Along for the discussion with the pilots were legendary King Schools Founders John and Martha King, and Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association Air Safety Institute Senior Vice President Richard McSpadden.

O’Brien quickly detailed the flight’s highly unexpected circumstances: Monnier and Downs departed from Florida’s Naples Municipal Airport (APF), on an air ambulance flight bound for Niagara Falls, NY, but diverted to Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport (SAV) following loss of thrust in one engine. The second engine failed as the jet descended through 8,000 feet, due to what was later determined to be DEF contamination of the fuel.

“Twin-turbine engine failures and dead stick landings [are] pretty much something you would count on one hand,” O’Brien noted.

The group considered audience questions ranging from how to train for such a complicated situation, to how co-pilot Downs’s glider-pilot rating might have informed the team’s thinking, to how the passengers reacted to the experience.

“It was mostly flying what looked right and what felt right,” Monnier said.

Several factors contributed to the successful outcome, including the crew’s quick decision to divert to the nearest suitable airport following the initial engine failure, and Downs’s experience flying gilders. “We’re at 8,000 feet, we’re descending 1,000 foot a minute when you do the math we had about 21 miles of energy in reserve,” Downs said.

McSpadden lauded the pilots for their crew resource management skills in handling the incident. “Their composure throughout the whole thing is really remarkable as an example for all of us,” he said. “Maintain your composure, analyze the situation and fly the airplane.”

The Kings recounted a similar dead-stick landing to Four Corners Regional Airport (FMN) in Farmington, NM in a Cessna 340 piston twin that suffered dual-engine failure caused by ice crystals in the fuel. “That was a real letdown,” John King quipped.

Another audience member’s question addressed whether the crew was able to maintain cabin pressurization for passengers. Monnier replied that was a minor issue, though it also may have helped keep everyone calm.

“We had an extremely nervous flier who we specifically talked to before the flight…and I’d promised her a good landing,” Monnier continued. “Once on the runway, “the [nervous passenger] asked one of the paramedics why we weren’t taxiing in. [The paramedic] leaned over and said ‘because we lost both engines.’”

The presentation was part of NBAA’s Virtual Safety Week that continues Thursday and Friday, Oct. 8-9, with the National Safety Forum.

Learn more about NBAA’s Virtual Safety Week.