Only On 3: Pilot explains vintage plane's forced landing in Hiwassee River
MEIGS COUNTY, TN. (WRCB) -- He's been flying almost six years, logging almost 600 hours as a pilot-in-command.
But Sunday afternoon, Andreas Montgomery, 22, would have only seconds to decide where he would try to put down a vintage post-war aircraft after its engine lost power rapidly.
"Actually, this was to be the maiden voyage of this aircraft," Montgomery says ruefully.
A single-engine Globe Swift, first-marketed to World War II fighter pilots who wanted to keep flying after returning to civilian life.
A 66-year-old Phoenix, rising.
"We had just gotten finished restoring it," he says.
After Sunday, she may be one and done.
"I was faced with a choice, of finding a place to ditch the plane," Montgomery says.
Montgomery had taken off from the Mark Anton Municipal Airport in Rhea County, after he and his boss, Vaughn Armstrong, had performed an 'extreme makeover', hopeful of selling their prize to a business or pleasure pilot who shares their enthusiasm for such vintage aircraft.
"I filled her up with fuel, and went out, put her through what an airplane was made for," he says.
Several posters to WRCB's Facebook page describe Montgomery's aerial maneuvers as acrobatics. Even Hot-dogging.
"I was not being an acrobat," Montgomery insists. "I've done that in these type planes, but not this time (Sunday)."
Trouble began when he attempted a steep climb over the Hiwassee River.
"The engine was not running properly," he says.
The Swift wouldn't hold speed. And nothing would remedy it.
"I don't like climbing trees, so I didn't want to crash in the forest," he says.
A nearby ridge was even less of an option. So he chose the river.
"Only problem is when you're going for it, water is pretty damn hard," he says.
He believes he hit at about 70 miles an hour. 'Stall speed' is 55.
"I was able to 'skip it' in," Montgomery says. "I was trying to go toward the shore but it clipped the left wing and spun me around."
Resting in four feet of water.
He popped the canopy. And walked, or swam, out.
"He did a remarkable job landing the aircraft," Meigs County Emergency Services director Tony Finnell says.
Nearby boaters brought him aboard. Via 911 calls, Meigs County rescue crews knew immediately that Montgomery had survived.
But getting to him would take more than half an hour.
"It's a lick," Finnell says. "We dropped in at Cherokee Removal Memorial Park, and motored from there."
Raising the Swift would take several hours spread over two days.
"Empty she weighs less than three-quarters of a ton; with a full tank (27 gallons) slightly more," Finnell says.
"With air bags, we thought we could lift her enough. Didn't work Sunday night."
Monday afternoon, Armstrong had secured a barge, with a Bobcat loader to haul the Swift aboard.
Mission Accomplished, in less than three hours, Montgomery says.
Armstrong will foot the bill. And Montgomery will nurse a few bruises he'd rather not show; including some wounded pride.
"Won't say what'll happen to the pay," Montgomery says. "But, I still have a job!"