Emergency landing on Highway 14

Highway landing ... This Beech plane, as seen in the light of the next morning, required an emergency landing 13 miles east of Philip. No one was hurt, including pilot Lee Vaughan, and no traffic was involved. The plane was tied down from the wind. Photo by Del Bartels

A private one engine airplane required an emergency landing on Highway 14 on Friday, January 2, about 13 miles east of Philip.

The engine of Lee Vaughan's Beech experienced mechanical difficulties just after 4:00 p.m. "You may think that you rise to the occasion, but you actually fall back to the highest level of your training," said Vaughan, who has taken many area children, with their parents, for their first airplane flight. Vaughan is one of the main leaders of the Philip Squadron of the Civil Air Patrol, as well as the fifth grade instructor at Philip Elementary School.

He was returning from Pierre after getting a preliminary check-up before the plane's required annual inspection. He was watching the beginning of the sunset, planning to be at the Philip Airport just before dark. At 4,500 feet, he encountered headwinds that slowed the plane to about 70 knots (approximately 70 miles per hour). He had already switched fuel tanks. Vaughan began descending to 3,500 feet to hopefully increase his speed, but still at 4,000 feet, the plane experienced a loss of power and the engine began to vibrate.

"I began executing the emergency procedures for an engine failure. You do what you are taught to do," said Vaughan. "But, when the "big fan" (propeller) quits, you just land it. I elected to initiate a turn south to hopefully clear the rough terrain before I had to set her down."

"We (the plane and Vaughan) were struggling to maintain enough altitude to clear the high voltage power lines running east and west, north of Highway 14," said Vaughan. "When we finally reached the highway, I turned her west to line up for an off-field landing. I called Huron Radio and filled them in on our predicament. My old plane and I managed to clear an east-bound vehicle before we set down in an otherwise uneventful landing."

Vaughan commented later that he was sure some driver, on getting to Midland, was raving about some crazy guy trying to land a plane on the highway.

"After turning off onto a gravel approach, I shut her down and tried to contact Huron. When all else failed, I dug out my cell phone from my flight bag and gave them a call. Eventually, we were joined by the county sheriff and the heads of both the Philip Ambulance Service and the Philip Volunteer Fire Department, which the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) had dispatched to our location."

All three departments were responding to the alert before 4:30 p.m. Vaughan happens to be a member of the Philip Ambulance Service. The PVFD had also sent two brush rigs and their crews.

"I was very thankful for their assistance in moving my old plane from the gravel approach once the folks at the FAA had given us permission to move her. We tied her down to the fence posts in the corner of a field," said Vaughan.

It was pitch dark by 4:45. The temperature was already dropping to well below zero and the winds were increasing to an eventual 35 mph, thus making the night's wind chill factor problematic for a downed pilot in rough terrain.