Belfast Telegraph

Bangor pilot who landed stricken plane in St Petersburg Florida park is hailed a hero

By Nevin Farrell

A pilot from Northern Ireland has been hailed a hero after he landed a small plane in a public park in the US after its engine failed.

All four people on board the Piper Cherokee survived the crash-landing, thanks to the skill of the Bangor man at the controls.

Grant Jordan (57) was on holiday in Florida when his hired aircraft got into difficulties on the approach to an airfield in St Petersburg.

Also onboard were Eamonn Marnell (58) from Crawfordsburn near Bangor and Aloysius Ryan (52), who lives in Howth in the Republic. He is a co-director of two well-known Dublin hotels, the Grand in Malahide and the Marine in Sutton. An unnamed 17-year-old girl, believed to be from north Down, was also on board. All are members of the Newtownards-based Ulster Flying Club.

Club members praised pilot Jordan's skill at being able to bring the aircraft down on a strip of grass in a normally busy park.

As people on the ground scattered he managed to avoid hitting anyone. However, the plane clipped a tree, a wing was ripped off and the aircraft was badly damaged.

When it finally came to a halt, one of the doors swung open and Mr Marnell – who was being comforted by family members in Crawfordsburn yesterday – and the girl stepped out. Mr Jordan was unconscious when paramedics arrived. He had several broken bones, his wife said, although none needed surgery.

Rodney Pritchard, the Ulster Flying Club's airfield manager, said: "The two in hospital were in a serious condition but they have come around since and are well on the road to recovery and could be home within a week or 10 days, but the pilot did a very good job on picking such a small part of land in such a situation. He made the right choice. We practise emergency landings here."

Club chairman John Hughes said it appeared the plane's engine had stopped on its approach to the runway at around 400 feet. He said: "Obviously with no engine he was not going to get to the airfield. But he nearly made it, only to catch the left undercarriage on a tree on the edge of the park. And nevertheless the aircraft did land in the park."

He added: "The quick thinking of the pilot no doubt helped, but it is what we all train to do and these are the kinds of things we prepare for. At 400 feet you've only got about 10 or 15 seconds before you meet mother earth, so he did very well. We are absolutely devastated at the news. They are not only club members but close friends. We are pleased it was not worse when it could easily have been – and I would put this down to the skill of the pilot."

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