ST PETERSBURG TIMES--Citrus County

Plane lands, despite troublesome nose gear
A former Navy pilot makes an emergency landing at Crystal River Airport after the landing gear on his twin-engine Cessna 310 malfunctions.

By SUZANNAH GONZALES, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published May 23, 2003


CRYSTAL RIVER - To a former Navy fighter pilot who served in the Korean War, what happened Thursday was no big deal.

"This morning is not even a nonevent," said 75-year-old Tom Davis, who also oversees operations at Crystal River Airport.

Maybe so, but it sure caused some excitement.

About 9:30 a.m., Davis made an emergency landing at the airport, after realizing that the landing gear under the twin-engine Cessna 310's nose wasn't working properly.

Davis and Lecanto resident Bobby Casey, 28, who also rode in the plane, walked away unharmed. The 1976 plane sustained minimal damage and there was a small fuel leak.

After discovering that the nose gear would not lock down properly, Davis' worries were financial, not personal. With a malfunctioning nose gear, you know you're going to have plane damage, but personal safety is no big risk, he explained.

"Now, you want to compare that to being shot at?"

Casey wasn't worried either.

"Tom, he was super relaxed," said Casey, a former flight student of Davis'. "I knew he knew what he was doing."

At takeoff, about 9 a.m., Casey, 28, who rented the plane a couple of days prior for a Thursday morning business trip to Merritt Island, was in the pilot seat on the left. Davis was on the right, accompanying Casey because of insurance requirements that say a staff pilot must ride with those who have not acquired a certain amount of flight time in the aircraft.

About 350 feet above the ground, the two men heard a pop. Later another.

After the two men did several low fly-bys so airport staff could help them identify the problem, and after they tried everything to get the gear to work right, pulling all three landing gears up and down and even using the emergency, manual hand crank, Casey and Davis switched seats.

At 9:15, Davis' wife, Gudi Davis, a pilot and instructor at the airport who was on the ground, called 911.

While waiting for emergency personnel to arrive on scene, Davis and Casey circled the airport at about 1,000 to 1,500 feet, examining equipment and talking about the landing.

Davis would land it as slow as possible, Casey recalled. Both engines would be shut down, cutting off the fuel and preventing engine damage. Casey popped open the door beside him so they would be able to get out if there was a fire.

Below, were five Citrus County Sheriff's Office units, one from the Crystal River Police Department, officials from the Crystal River and Connell Heights fire departments and EMS.

"You would think it was a catastrophe," Casey said. "It wasn't that bad."

". . . It was actually pretty smooth."

- Suzannah Gonzales can be reached at 860-7312 or sgonzales@sptimes.com