A flight instructor and his student, both visiting San Diego from France, went through some tense moments Friday afternoon when their small aircraft experienced landing gear issues, causing the plane to circle for hours before finally landing safely at Montgomery Field.
The pilot first made an emergency call into air traffic control around 3:40 p.m. to report the landing gear troubles as the fixed-wing, single-engine Cessna-177 was coming in to land at Montgomery Field.
By 4:45 p.m., the plane had not yet been able to land and had less than four hours’ worth of fuel left. After some fly-bys and an attempted landing, the pilot was finally able to set the plane down on the runway around 5:18 p.m.
With a few bumps, the Cessna came to a safe stop, and the duo inside hopped out as soon as they could.
Fire crews were on standby in case of an emergency and rushed to the men to check on their welfare. They were fine, just understandably shaken up by the situation.
Flight instructor Jean-Jacques Bellier said they had no trouble getting up in the air, but landing became a problem about an hour into their flight, as the landing gear got stuck.
Bellier and his student were forced to circle Montgomery Field while they tried to find a solution. At one point, they opened the door and used a crow bar to try to manually pull the gear, but had no success.
After burning hours of fuel, Bellier tried to land, knowing the equipment was not secure. Fortunately, with fire trucks ready on the tarmac, the aircraft finally landed and the gear stuck.
Bellier and student, Paul Hontang, emerged from the Cessna uninjured. The men said they managed to remain calm inside the plane despite the seriousness of the situation.
“You can check the tape [to see] if we were nervous. I don’t think we were too nervous. We were discussing what to do,” explained Bellier.
Hontang’s wife, Anne Hontang, said she wasn’t nervous either because she didn’t know what was going on at the time. She said she didn’t realize what happened until after the men landed.
For her the reality of the incident is now sinking in.
“I’m very happy my husband is alive. I’m very, very happy,” she told NBC 7.
The registered owner of the plane is the Armed Forces Aero Club.
David Piontek, president of the Armed Forces Aero Club, told NBC 7 that a former mechanic heard Bellier’s radio call and offered the men advice on how to get the landing gear to go down.
“The impact, when it first touched the ground, actually caused the gear to come up and lock into place,” said Piontek.
Bellier said he has more than 15,000 of flying experience as a pilot. Until Friday’s incident, he said he had never had a problem like this before.
As the pilot and the Hontangs left Montgomery Field, NBC 7 asked what they were doing next.
The group agreed, “We’re getting a drink.”