Pilot lands safely after plane hits deer

March 8, 2010 8:42:34 PM PST
After an airplane hit a deer, a local pilot was able to land safely despite losing part of his landing gear.

Five members of John Olson's family were on board and they're calling him a hero.

After realizing he may have lost his landing gear when he clipped the deer, Olson says he was just doing what pilots are trained to do. But his family has given him the nickname 'Sully' after the U.S. Airways pilot who landed a jet on the Hudson River last year.

As they hoisted the Piper Seneca onto a truck Sunday night surrounded by emergency vehicles, the scene looked like the aftermath of a crash. And as the Olson family headed toward the runway with the left landing gear missing, that's exactly what they feared.

"I told everybody, 'just make sure your seatbelts are secure and tightened,' and I had everybody put their shoulder harnesses on," said Deb Olson, pilot's wife. "We just kind of all held hands and prayed in the back like crazy."

Without a wheel on one side there was danger the twin engine plane would lean and spin out or flip over after touching ground. But Olson kept it steady until it finally skidded to a stop with sparks flying. But no one was hurt.

"I don't think there's not much you can do other than stay focused. You're still flying the plane in a sense, that's how you train, fly until it stops," said Olson.

It had been an uneventful 45-minute flight back from a weekend trip to Michigan when they first tried to land at Campbell Airport in Grayslake. Just before touching down a deer crossing the runway darted back around. Olson tried to pull up but clipped the deer with his left landing gear.

"Everything was clearing up beautifully until our little Bambi decided to cross the runway," said Olson.

Olson's 6-year-old granddaughter who was among the passengers in the back drew a picture of the plane and the ambulances on Monday. His grandson in the front seat took it all in and knew what was happening.

"Bunka's my hero," said Blake Caravello, Olson's grandson.

The deer suffered a broken leg and was still alive for nearly an hour until the airport manager found him and determined he had no option but to put him down.

Olson has been a pilot for 15 years and plans to back in the air as soon as his plane is repaired.