A local pilot was being hailed as a hero this week for actions he took to safely land a small plane carrying six passengers on a highway near the Needles district of Canyonlands National Park on Sept. 12.
Pilot Tim Martin made the decision to land the Cessna 207 aircraft after the plane experienced engine problems during a morning scenic flight last Saturday. Martin, who was flying the chartered plane for Redtail Aviation, told investigators that he felt a “sudden vibration” and the plane lost some, but not all, power while the flight was northbound from the Dollhouse to Canyonlands National Park at about 11 a.m., according to information provided by the National Park Service.
Martin quickly searched for a safe place to land but discovered that an airstrip located at Needles Outpost was unusable. Park Service officials said the airstrip was recently damaged by storms and has been unusable since that time.
Martin made the decision to land the plane on state Route 211, the Needles entrance road, about 2 miles east of the park entrance, according to the NPS report. The plane landed safely, and there were no injuries to Martin or the six passengers onboard, according to the report.
“As far as I’m concerned, he is the hero of the day there,” Redtail President Mark Francis said Wednesday. “He did an excellent job of getting the airplane to a safe place where he could land it and protect the safety of those people onboard. He really did everything right in that situation.”
The road into the Needles was closed temporarily while a mechanic from Redtail Aviation and other Redtail Aviation staff were flown in from Price to assess the damage. Francis said repairs were made to the aircraft and it has since been flown back to Canyonlands Field Airport north of Moab, where the charter flight originated.
He said one cylinder in the plane’s engine failed, causing the aircraft to lose power. But the cause of the cylinder failure remains unknown, he said. He said the plane is subject to a rigid inspection and maintenance program and had shown no signs of problems in the past.
“We’d like to know as much as anybody else why this occurred,” Francis said. “This is the kind of thing that should never happen.”
The Federal Aviation Administration is investigating the incident, Francis said. He praised San Juan County Sheriff deputies, National Park Service rangers and workers at Needles Outpost for their help with the incident.