Flight instructor records crash: ‘Oh, my God, no’

Emergency responders at the scene of a plane crash near the Lowell City Airport. (Jan. 19, 2015)

LOWELL, Mich. (WOOD) — The flight instructor whose student walked away from a single-engine plane crash on Monday recorded it on his phone.

“Oh my God, no, no,” Jeff Ostrander yelled as the 1964 Cessna 172 fell to the left and disappeared behind trees. “Oh, no.”

Ostrander said he’s taught the student, a 40-year-old Grand Rapids man, since April, but that it was not his first solo flight. He had landed perfectly once just a few minutes earlier.

“One of the best I’ve ever had,” Ostrander said of the student. “He’s a brilliant guy, just a very fine man.” Lowell City Airport generic 1 012015

But, on the second landing attempt, the student was coming in too hot from east to west, Ostrander said.

“We are looking about three-eighths of the way down the runway, not quite half,” he said as he showed the video of the plane, which was just two or three feet off the ground. “Typically, the airplane is on the ground and almost braked to a stop by now.”

He said his student pulled up for another pass.

“He made a good decision,” Ostrander said.

The video shows the plane lifting, but Ostrander said it appears it climbed too steeply, causing the plane to lose lift, or stall.

The plane fell to the left and then disappeared behind trees. Police said it clipped some trees before crashing near a home just west of the end of the runway.

“It’s just not supposed to happen, ever,” Ostrander said.

Ostrander ran to the plane, which had crashed outside a home several hundred yards west of the runway.

“This is my friend and my responsibility and it’s heartbreaking, and as I was rushing over there, I’m just praying for his safety, and I’m so thankful that those prayers were answered,” he said.

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The student, he said, is hospitalized with cuts and bruises, but has told him he’s anxious to return to the cockpit.

“Whether I continue to instruct or not, I don’t know, because I cannot go through this again, and the safety of our students is absolutely a million times more important than anything else that happens,” Ostrander said.

Ostrander said it was the first crash of a student in the six years he’s given pilot lessons at the Lowell City Airport, but it’s the eleventh crash at the airport since 1982.

While pilots and the airport manager on Tuesday called the airport safe, they acknowledged it is more challenging than others, especially for inexperienced pilots.

The Lowell City Airport (Jan. 20, 2015)
The Lowell City Airport (Jan. 20, 2015)

“I love teaching here in part because it is, in some ways, more challenging than many of the airports around,” Ostrander said.

Not because of the nearby trees, he said, but because the runway is 2,300 feet long — far shorter than most. Pilots have less room for error, he said.

“I would say for the pilot who is proficient, I don’t think he would say this is a particularly challenging place.”

Airport Manager Casey Brown, who is also a pilot, said the airport has been trimming nearby trees for several years and plans to trim more.

“It’s not a safety issue,” he said. “Everything is in place per all the federal aviation regulations with regard to safety and we meet all that criteria… circumstances are different for every accident. Several of those I know are pilot error.”

His big concern is the gas station recently built several hundred yards beyond the west end of the runway, over the airport’s objections, not far from where the plane crashed. If the plane had banked right instead of left, it could have hit the station.

“I think they dodged a bullet last night,” Brown said. “He could just as easily have ended up on top of the gas station.”

Ostrander said he provided a copy of the video to the Federal Aviation Administration for its investigation, but he didn’t give a copy to 24 Hour News 8 because he didn’t want his student to watch it on the news.

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