A Pilot’s Worst Nightmare

Heading back from Pierre, SD on November 12th in a T210, Fly There instructor John Korinke was about 20 minutes from landing when he noticed a decrease in oil pressure.  The engine was maintaining pressure but it was lower than normal, hovering in the yellow arc.  Chicago was vectoring him for the RNAV 16 into PWK and cleared him down to 2,500′ (~1,800′ AGL).  When John leveled off and added power he knew something was wrong.  The engine didn’t respond like normal.  A few short seconds later, a pilot’s worst nightmare; Catastrophic failure of a connecting rod during night IMC only 1,800′ feet above the ground.  The next few minutes got interesting in a hurry and were captured online.  Click here to hear the audio recording of John’s communications with ATC.

Phew… I’ve only listened to that once before writing this and it still brings a tear to my eye over 4 months later.  I can’t begin to imagine the chaos that John endured.  I wouldn’t wish that on any pilot, let alone a great friend.  I could only hope, faced with that same situation, I would maintain the same level of calm that he displayed.

When you talk to John about this, he did everything “by the book”.  Set up best glide, headed towards the nearest airport and fought every urge to change his landing spot and to try and stretch out his glide.  That, coupled with some powers beyond our control, he was able to walk away from this situation without even a scratch.  In fact, he was ready to fly the next day but that same weather restricted him to ground school.  He actually had to wait two whole days before he could fly again!

When asked what lessons he learned from this whole situation he mentioned three:
Never assume it’s “just a gauge”.
The importance of engine out procedures.
Know your speeds, stick to them and fly the plane all the way to the ground.

Below are a few images I took of the plane that night and then an aerial shot taken days later.  Note the stripe in the marsh?  That’s where John touched down (gear up to extend his glide).  He slid about 75 feet through wet marsh, over a bridge that was installed a couple years ago and then came to a stop just a few feet on the runway.  Talking to John afterwards, he didn’t even realize the bridge was there until him and the responding officer walked back with a flashlight.  Also note how the trail is only a foot or so from the far north edge of the bridge?

Notice the hole in the top of the engine. You can see the connecting rod.

Notice the hole in the top of the engine. You can see the crankshaft.

You can see the touchdown spot in the upper right hand corner.

You can see the touchdown spot in the upper right hand corner.

If you look closely at the right side of the bridge, you can see he just made it across

If you look closely at the right side of the bridge, you can see he narrowly made it across.

I was hoping to share this story much sooner, but the engine is only now in the final stages of the NTSB investigation.  John spoke with someone from the FAA shortly after the accident and they mentioned that similar situations happening at almost the exact same time in other engines, “Approximately 10 minutes after a low oil pressure indication”.  I will send out another note once the final results come in to help us be better prepared should we find ourselves in a similar situation.

Now, please join me in a Standing Ovation for a job well done by a fellow aviator. Nice work John, you should be proud of yourself.