GREAT BARRINGTON — A flight instructor and student made an emergency landing in a field over the weekend after their airplane’s engine lost some of its power on takeoff at Walter J. Koladza Airport.
Neither were injured, and the plane did not sustain any damage, said Great Barrington Police Chief Paul Storti.
“It wasn’t a plane crash,” he added. “It landed.”
Storti said the engine trouble happened sometime before 5 p.m. Saturday.
The airport notified the Federal Aviation Administration, which investigated the incident Monday morning, said the airport’s owner, Richard Solan. The agency confirmed the partial power loss and noted the lack of damage. There were no fuel leaks on the airport’s 1978 Piper Warrior, and the plane’s engine had about 1,200 hours before a recommended overhaul at 2,000 hours, he said.
Solan said he was instructing a student when the power faltered, and he decided to land as a precaution in a stretch of private fields just west of the runway that is considered an “overrun” in such cases. The airport trims trees and cuts tall grass on either end of the runway to keep the clearing in case of just such an event, Solan noted. The fields are behind some of the homes that sit along Route 71 to the west.
“It was a split-second decision, and there was the heat [outside] and the safest maneuver was to land it,” he said.
Solan, a retired, longtime American Airlines pilot, explained that every pilot and student prepares for this on every flight. It’s part of a checklist, and the maneuvers instilled in students.
“Every takeoff you plan for an engine failure, and that way it won’t surprise you,” Solan said. “We know exactly what we’re going to do. It’s in our briefing. Every takeoff you have to prepare for an engine failure, and every landing you have to prepare for a go-around. Our training is for this and this just shows the training worked.”
While rare, such incidents alarm some of those who live in this area around the airport. It is a mix of homes, fields and farmland.
A group of neighbors and some abutters of the airport, which officially opened nearly 80 years ago, have complained about noise and worry about safety. A pending Land Court appeal is challenging the airport’s legality. The airport does not have a town permit because it preexists zoning laws.
Supporters of the airfield have taken to social media to decry what they say is an attack by those who moved to the area long after the airport was established, and say they are trying to destroy this community resource, historic airfield and flight school.
Storti said the last incident he recalled responding to at the airport was when a plane taxied off the western end of the runway in 2018 while positioning for takeoff. There were no injuries, but the plane sustained some damage.
In 2011, a pilot and his passenger suffered minor injuries when a plane with engine trouble on takeoff came down in the field just to the west of the runway.
The previous year, a pilot and his passenger were hospitalized after a plane crashed amid fog in the cornfield just short of the eastern end of the runway.