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LOUISBURG — A student pilot narrowly escaped serious injury, or worse, when his plane reportedly lost too much altitude on a turn and flew under some power lines Sunday.
Witnesses on Thomas Jones Road reported to the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office that a low flying airplane had apparently hit power lines while passing underneath, causing them to fall. That in turn started a fire that burned a large area of a field. The aircraft was able to fly away.
According to the incident report filed by Deputy C. Saunders, a witness stated that the pilot of the airplane made several passes over her and her parents’ property, flying lower and lower each time until the plane eventually went under the powerlines. The witness said it appeared that the pilot might have been actually trying to fly under the lines.
Eric Pippin, the operations manager for Total Flight Solutions, a flight school that provides both fixed wing and helicopter instruction, said that a student of the school, Sam Leonard, was on a solo flight when the one-of-a-kind incident happened.
“This is a first. He was a student pilot on a solo flight. No one here had an inkling that this might happen,” Pippin said. “It is definitely a surprise and a shock.”
Although the incident has been handed over to the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) by the Sheriff’s Office, Pippin said that evidently Leonard was flying too low when he made a turn and lost even more lift.
When he realized he was approaching the powerlines, he tried to gain altitude to go over them, Pippin said, but was unable to and had to fly under them.
“He was too low for what he was doing,” he said. “He is very lucky to not be hurt. He shouldn’t have been that low.”
According to Pippin, Leonard, 43, of Louisburg, reported the incident when he returned to the Franklin County Airport.
The plane he was flying, a Remos GX fixed-wing, single-engine light sport aircraft, suffered what appeared to be only minor damage. The tallest part of the plane, the vertical stabilizer, sits about 8 feet above the ground. The bottom string of the powerlines was about 29 feet above ground, according to Duke Energy employee Jim Sponsler, giving mere feet for the plane to simultaneously clear the ground and powerlines.
Pippin said it appeared the vertical stabilizer cleanly severed the powerlines, causing cosmetic damage to the right wing and possibly some damage to the propeller. The gear box has been removed to be checked for damage, but Pippin estimated all repairs will be completed within two weeks.
Sponsler said the cost to replace the powerlines was approximately $1,500, not including the labor involved. And the damage to field was listed at about $500.
The tail number of the aircraft shows it is registered to a Raleigh resident and is about five years old.