Landing Gear Problems Force Emergency Landing for Pete Michaels

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Knoxville (WVLT) - Landing gear failure forced Pete Michaels to make an emergency landing just before noon today, as many of you watched the whole thing unfold on WVLT.

You depend on Pete to bring you traffic reports throughout the day, but this morning as he had wrapped up his morning reports, our Eye In The Sky, had to put his experience as a pilot to the test.

"It's something you know is probably going to happen sooner or later," says Pete.

With more than 30-years of experience, 25,000 hours in the sky and one other "gear-up landing," Pete Michaels looks at making a controlled crash landing as just another day on the job.

While preparing to land after his morning traffic reports for 25 local radios stations and Volunteer TV News, Pete's plane's landing gear failed.

"I heard the landing gear pump pumping and I didn't see any landing gear and I knew that wasn't good," Pete recalls. "Part of my checklist is to put the gear down and then immediately look out the window and make sure it's coming down and locked."

It wasn't, so he tried the back-up manual gear.

"If we have fluid in the system we can reach down and pump the gear down into the lock position. But, when we went to pump the gear down there was no resistance at all, which meant there was no fluid and no way to get the gear down."

With the landing gear dangling uselessly from the belly of the plane, Pete tried several maneuvers to get the gear down, none worked.

So he spent two hours burning fuel and he used that time wisely, developing a plan with the crews on the ground.

After collaborating with Knoxville Fire Department, they decided a grass landing would be the best option.

"We felt confident that once we put it on the grass we'd be okay," says Pete.

"It's always safer to land in the grass with a belly-type landing," says Darrell Whitaker from the Knoxville Fire Department.

"It was a matter of practicing and getting it in a position where we could land softly," Pete says.

It wouldn't have been a problem to do a belly landing and just slide in on the grass, but the aircraft's nose gear was locked into place.

"The nose gear could bite into the grass and cause the aircraft to flip," says Whitaker.

Emergency crews scoped out the area to make sure that didn't happen.

"We knew if we could burn the fuel off with the fire department standing by," says Pete.

The choice to use the nearby grass instead of the runway was an easy one to make.

"The hazards of landing on the runway are spark hazards," Whitaker explains.

That's already happened once for Pete, about 15 to 20 years ago.

"With a gear-up landing there are two kinds of pilots: those who've done it and those who haven't done it yet."

This is Pete's second, and he says no sparks and smoke make this one much more pleasant. "I was in direct communication with the chief. I felt confident."

Confidence helped Pete and the emergency crews on the ground stay calm as well.

"I'm very impressed with his demeanor on the radio the way he's handling himself," Whitaker says.

"Airplanes and flying is still spectacular, it's still interesting and when something happens with an airplane even though it really isn't that big of a deal, it's still a big story and everyone wants to follow it. I'm just glad I'm here to tell you about it," says Pete.

The FAA is taking a look at Pete's plane now. It hasn't been moved from the controlled crash site since the landing, just before noon Tuesday.

They're trying to figure out exactly what went wrong with Pete's plane.

The Cessna 182 plane suffered substantial rudder damage and some damage to the left wing tip.

He hopes to be back in that plane by next week.

Until then, he will still bring you traffic reports in the back-up plane.