Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Driver dodges landing plane

His second close call with aircraft in 25 years

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Almost hit by the Gimli Glider when he was a boy, almost hit on Friday by another airplane, Kerry Seabrook can be forgiven for keeping a wary eye on the sky.

He said he was in shock on Friday as he realized that, by incredible coincidence, he has twice been forced to dodge planes making emergency landings.

"When I was watching the Gimli Glider coming in, I was 11 and it wasn't fear, it was fascination because we were too young to understand the danger of it," he said in an interview. "This was a smaller plane but it was a heck of a lot closer and I definitely appreciate how close it was. I was definitely shaking for half an hour after that."

Twenty five years ago, Seabrook was one of the boys on a defunct runway who had to dash out of the way as the Gimli Glider silently coasted in.

On Friday, he had to swerve his Dodge Ram into a ditch around 2 p.m. to avoid being hit by a single-engine Cessna plane that used Highway 8 as a runway when the pilot had engine trouble after takeoff.

"His wing tip was about five feet away from me and I heard the chirp of the wheels right outside my window," Seabrook said. "The only thing I was focused on was the tip of the wing. That's all I could see."

Seabrook was driving on Highway 8 just north of where the road shrinks from two lanes to one when he saw the plane flying low, he said.

He had just dropped off a load of his belongings to his new house in Winnipeg and was on his way back to his Sandy Hook residence for another load.

He saw the plane heading west and then watched in fear as it suddenly turned toward the highway, he said.

A car a few hundred feet behind him on the highway had to pull off to the side to make way for the plane that rolled down the highway, Seabrook said.

To get out of the way, Seabrook drove into the ditch at around 80 kilometres an hour. He came away from the ordeal with a tiny scrape on his leg and no visible damage to his truck.

Shortly after its emergency landing, the plane was still at the end of a gravel driveway it was pushed into. A few minutes later, the aircraft was towed by a pickup truck back to the nearby airport while RCMP blocked sections of the highway.

The pilot and company officials at the scene refused comment.

The pilot and three passengers were on board for a regular trip to Bloodvein First Nation when the plane lost power, said Peter Hildebrand of the Transportation Safety Board of Canada. The plane landed on the highway, coasted to a stop and then it was pushed off the road, he said. Hildebrand said investigators don't know why the plane's engine suddenly shut down. He said they probably won't know more until sometime next week.

The RCMP said the pilot, two women and an infant were on board. No one was injured.

Gabriel Chiola, who lives at the end of the driveway the plane was in, said he was sleeping when the aircraft landed on the highway.

"I was taking a nap and then my wife wakes me up and says there's a plane down there," Chiola said. "I thought it was my neighbour because he has been repairing planes. It's a good thing it landed all right and nobody got hurt."

Seabrook had been in the news last month during the 25th anniversary of the Gimli Glider landing. To celebrate the anniversary, the plane's crew finally met the boys who were forced to dash out of the way when the Boeing 767 with an empty fuel tank landed on an empty drag strip.

Captain Bob Pearson will never forget the look of fear in the boys' eyes. And Friday, after hearing about Seabrook's second experience involving an unusual landing, he couldn't believe it.

"Maybe he should be a pilot instead of driving around on bicycles and in trucks," Pearson joked on Friday night. "His peripheral vision was working for him again."

On Friday, Darrel Robert, who lives close to St. Andrews Airport, heard the Cessna flying near his house and knew it was in trouble.

"I hear them go over all the time, but this time you could hear it sputtering and backfiring. You could hear it was having engine trouble," Robert said. "He was just about to fly over my house when he turned toward the airport. A few minutes later, I heard a big bang."

Robert peeked out his window and didn't see smoke. He thought the loud sound was from a nearby construction site until he heard sirens heading toward the airport.

Steve Bechtel and Chuck Purvis, both pilots at Harv's Air at the airport, quickly took to the air to look for the downed plane.

"I spotted it first," Bechtel said.

"The power lines from the substation were right in front of him. I'm sure he knew that. But he saved everybody on board -- that's pretty good piloting skills."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 9, 2008 $sourceSection$sourcePage

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