MAYDAY ON THE BEACH
By UTE SCHULENBERG
GORDON Rutty won't forget yesterday in a hurry. Returning from a flight to Wagga, the 42-year-old from Coffs Harbour was cruising up the coastline approaching Urunga when the engine of his small Piper Cherokee cut out.
"Something happened with the fuel," Mr Rutty said. "I switched tanks but it was no go. So I landed it on the beach."
Mr Rutty brought the plane to rest at the northern end of Hungry Head Beach, with the rocky breakwall ahead of him.
He walked away unharmed and there appeared to be no damage to the aircraft.
Speaking after his ordeal, he said he had learnt about forced landings during his pilot training with the Coffs Harbour Aero Club three years ago.
"They taught us how to do this sort of thing," he said. "It all happened very fast. I won't be flying the plane off the beach, but I am feeling fine and my confidence is not shaken."
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With the tide rising fast, by the time the police and emergency services arrived the narrow strip of sand where Mr Rutty had landed was even narrower.
All efforts were immediately put into towing the plane into the dunes, where it was secured, awaiting a low tide for recovery.
Sergeant Craig Enchelmaier of the Coffs Clarence Local Area Command said the mayday call to the Coffs Harbour emergency tower was received at 10.30am.
"The pilot had attempted a number of emergency procedures in accordance with his training but the engine was not functioning and he brought the plane down safely on Urunga Beach," Sergeant Enchelmaier said.
"He was the only occupant of the plane and he was not injured."
He said Mr Rutty would be taken to the Coffs Harbour Health Campus for a check-up by a doctor, in accordance with flight regulations.
Volunteers from the Urunga State Emergency Services said they did not get a lot of practice at aircraft salvages.
"The last one was about eight years ago at the next beach along (Third Headland)," one volunteer said.