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Professional pilot Suglia commends actions during crash landing on river

By Dan Miller

danmiller@pressandjournal.com

717-944-4628
Posted 10/9/19

The pilot of the Piper Malibu Mirage who had an apparent engine failure “did a fantastic job” in safely landing the aircraft in the Susquehanna River near Middletown last Friday said …

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Professional pilot Suglia commends actions during crash landing on river

Posted

The pilot of the Piper Malibu Mirage who had an apparent engine failure “did a fantastic job” in safely landing the aircraft in the Susquehanna River near Middletown last Friday said Damon Suglia, a professional pilot for 22 years.

The pilot, who has not been publicly identified, was flying the aircraft from Rochester, New York to Harrisburg International Airport.

Officials say the pilot reported an engine failure before bringing the aircraft down in the river along Water Street in Londonderry Township, just outside Middletown shortly after 5 p.m.

Neither of the two occupants in the six-seat plane were seriously injured, officials say.

One had a minor injury, and the other was not injured. Both were taken by ambulance to the hospital.

It could have been much worse, Suglia told the Press & Journal. Had the plane had fixed landing gear that could not be retracted, the extended gear would have likely caught on something upon landing.

The aircraft “could have cartwheeled, turned over and trapped him” and the other occupant inside, Suglia said. “It could have been disastrous or he could have drowned.”

In this case, the Piper Malibu Mirage had retractable landing gear that the pilot retracted.

“He followed proper protocol for ditching and landing it in the water. By not extending the gear he landed it flat belly up. That’s exactly how you train. I think he did an excellent job, plus being able to walk away. He handled it professionally and as a properly trained pilot,” said Suglia, a Middletown resident and former borough council president who has flown large commercial airliners and small aircraft similar to the Piper Malibu Mirage. He now flies corporate jets.

Suglia was impressed with the pilot’s calmness on transmissions of the accident that Suglia has heard.

“He didn’t panic,” he said.

Suglia said he’s never had to ditch a plane in the water, but engine failures and emergency landings are something he practices, and as an instructor has taught other pilots how to do.

Every two years pilots undergo a mandatory evaluation where they must demonstrate proficiency in emergency procedures and other tasks involved in flying, Suglia said.

If pilots aren’t proficient in any given area, they first receive additional training. If they still can’t get up to speed, they don’t pass the evaluation and they can no longer legally pilot an aircraft, Suglia said.

Typically, if an engine fails, the aircraft doesn’t just fall out the sky, but glides. A trained pilot in a situation such as what happened last Friday would look to ditch the aircraft near a boat, where help will arrive quickly, or near the shore where it is shallow, Suglia said.

In the case of last Friday, the pilot found a place in the middle of the river where the river is not very wide.

“It was very commendable what he did,” Suglia said.