Last modified August 24th, 2009

South Carolina / North Carolina Incident

OK, I may need some help from those people who were with us on this fateful day. I will tell this story now, and you can email me with corrections if I missed any details.

What I can tell you is that I perfectly remember these details of the story, as if it happened yesterday. This story is no exaggeration.

Sadly, Harry's Tail Number has been reassigned, but here is an FAA lookup today of the Tail Number N55WG:

Gary Forsythe and myself, and I think one or two other Area Managers, plus the pilot and copilot, were on a store tour. I think there were six souls on board. (Recently, Gary told me the pilot's name was Mike Craddick (sic).) We were in the Cessna Citation I Super Shops Corporate Jet and we had been in the air to at least two stores earlier in the day. We were in flight to Greensboro, South Carolina when a thunderstorm came up on us. I'm sure the Pilot and Copilot knew what we were up against, but I was a rookie. If you have ever flown in a Citation I, you know that there are 6 to 8 seats and it is an intimate experience. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cessna_Citation_I . "55 Whiskey Golf" was one of only 377 Citation I's ever built. The cockpit door can be left open, and if you are sitting near the main door towards the front, you were able to pretty much stick your face in there and see the pilots and the avionics without leaving your seat. This is where I was on this flight.

Well, the storm was on us out of nowhere. The clouds were thick and black, and the sky was dark, even though it was midday. The noise of the rain on the aluminum was deafening and the lightning was crazy. We were all looking out of our windows trying to see anything, and the plane was bucking hard - jumping up and down maybe 30 to 60 feet like it was a toy. We got under the storm a little bit and almost instantly I could see the ground where it was totally blocked with rain just the instant before.

At the moment, all of us were completely tense, uptight, white knuckled. I was quite seriously considering that we might die. I figure we were at about 600 to 800 feet off the ground, and in a split second, in just a tiny gap, I saw the entire runway and all the red ground lights whiz past us and all I could see were rooftops. I swung around and looked at the cockpit. I am figuring that they were 100% on instruments and radar, because neither of them seemed to care or notice that we were over the neighborhood. I raised my voice as loud as I could muster it and said something like "WE JUST MISSED THE RUNWAY!" and right at that moment the pilot gunned the throttle. The engines spun up and if you have ever had the pleasure of riding in a Citation I, you know that bird is nicely powered. The plane shot forward and gained altitude immediately. (The plane always seemed very responsive and well-powered, and I certainly appreciated that fact on this day.)

I vividly remember noticing that the pilot's shirt was soaking wet with stress perspiration. He was a pro and he handled this crisis like a hero. We bugged out and did not even try to turn around and take another try at it. Instead we flew to Raleigh, NC and landed, where everybody on the plane wanted to kiss the ground.

Now I can't claim credit for saving our asses - leave that one to the pilot and copilot. It might have been a total coincidence that he gunned the throttle right when I pointed out the problem. But I must tell you, I was there. I really believe that they were on instruments and they did not know we missed the airport until I told them we did. I would love to hear from the pilot, copilot, Gary or the other Area Managers (Gary Meink? Bruce Banker? Jon Lindstrom? who was with us???) and you can set me straight if I am off base.

Regardless of how our asses were saved, I must tell you that I still sweat and my heart still speeds up every time I am in flight and we encounter a storm with turbulence. A close call THAT close changes a man.

 

Here's a memory for those who have ever flown on Harry's Citation I. This small sticker was subtly attached to the stainless steel kick plate on the main entrance door. I don't remember if it was on the Falcon 50 or not.