Emergency Landing in Danbury, TX

by HPA · November 17, 2013

Emergency Landing in Danbury, TX

by Sarah Rovner (Commercial Pilot & FAASTeam Representative)

Somebody once told me that since I had already experienced and engine failure, I was statistically safe from one for the next 20,000 hours. I was not expecting anything out of the normal as I was practicing for my CFI check ride and getting ready to take the practical test with the FAA. I went flying with a friend to practice the maneuvers before getting signed off by my primary instructor for the practical test. I was flying a Piper Arrow PA28R-200, which had the old style wing and literally glides like a manhole cover.

Emergency Landing in Danbury, TX

We took off from Pearland Regional Airport (LVJ) and headed out into the country to practice maneuvers in unpopulated areas. I began the training by practice teaching eights on pylons, which is the lowest altitude maneuver that is required for the CFI check ride. As I finished the maneuver, I was at about 800 feet and applied power to start climbing up to do Chandelles. Out of nowhere, it was almost as if something snapped in the engine and it started to violently shake. Immediately I pushed all the controls forward – throttle, prop and mixture. I saw the manifold pressure come up and it started vibrating even worse. I immediately looked for a place to land and there was a good looking long dirt road of some sort in a field not too far from us. It almost even looked like a private airport. I didn’t know how long I would have power for, so I decided to put it down in that field and set up to do so. I still had partial power although the airplane wasn’t going to climb. I was slightly high on the approach as I was hesitant to reduce the power knowing I would not get it back, but was able to get it down on the road and stop quickly. The dirt road turned out to be soft sand and as I came to a stop I realized that the engine quit completely.

Emergency Landing in Danbury, TX

I was pretty upset and jumped out of the plane to start taking in everything that just happened. It probably wasn’t more than a minute from the time the engine started running rough to the time we were on the ground. After looking over the airplane, it was determined that there was not even a scratch on it. I called the airplane owner to inform him of the situation and I started making arrangements to get out of the field. I had no clue where I was and used my SPOT tracker to send myself the GPS coordinates. I forwarded those to my flight instructor to come pick us up.

Emergency Landing in Danbury, TX

A few minutes after landing, we saw a pickup truck headed our way. The man pulled up to where we were and inquired on the situation. After explaining what happened, he said that he had heard an airplane with engine trouble from a mile away and was driving around trying to find out where it had landed. He helped us push the plane off of the sand and secure it. It turns out that the man was an employee of the land owner, who is also a pilot and runs a crop dusting operation. The strip we had landed on had actually been used as a runway for crop dusters and the owner put the sand on it 4 days ago to improve the grass runway. The land owner also came and met us and drove us to his house where my flight instructor picked us up.

Emergency Landing in Danbury, TX

Overall, it was a very successful emergency landing. The airplane was undamaged and it made for quite a story to tell. The mechanic went out the next day and determined that the #3 cylinder had failed. Upon further investigation, it turned out that the valve stem broke from the valve head, destroyed the piston, and the cylinder head got stuck in the piston. As you can see in the picture, the valve stem is separated from the valve head and part of the stem is still in the valve guide. Debris had then gotten from the #3 cylinder into the #4 cylinder, causing damage to the #4 cylinder as well. The mechanic came out to the field for a few weeks and replaced the cylinders and parts that had failed and were damaged. 3 weeks later, it was flown out of the field and returned back to its home. I have flown it since, and it feels like a different airplane. The engine sounds and performs so much better, and I have confidence that it will continue to operate well.

Emergency Landing in Danbury, TX

Emergency Landing in Danbury, TX

If I could make any recommendation toward training for events like this, I would say that students should train for partial power engine failures as that is a very different game than a complete engine failure. Students should have to fly at a power setting that will allow them to hold altitude or have a slow descent as that completely changes the decision making process. With the power, it was gamble on whether or not I could have made it to a paved airport.

Sarah Rovner

However, I decided not to and decided to land where I knew I could reach. The entire event was a big unexpected kink in finishing my CFI, but overall has made me a better pilot and I will be able to pass this experience onto my students. I still plan to finish my CFI soon, given there are no more eventful moments in the airplane!

Sarah Rovner is a commercial airplane pilot based in Houston, TX who enjoys flying her G1000-equipped Cessna 182 for personal and business travel. She is also active as a mission pilot in theCivil Air Patrol, a humanitarian pilot with Angel Flight, a tow pilot for a local glider field, FAASTeam Representative and EAA Young Eagles pilot. She enjoys flying to and exploring new places, and is currently working toward her CFI rating.

How it Started

One of my best friends in high school, (Doug Gray) was a private pilot. He offered to take me up for a flight in a 1967 Cessna 150, N6228S. We took off from Calhoun, Georgia, and he took me on a scenic tour of the area, I was hooked. I later found out that my English teacher, (Jan Haluska) was also a flight instructor and the school was offering a ground school course the next year, which he taught, along with flight training with the goal of becoming a private pilot. I managed to talk my dad into funding the training, at the time the total cost was right around $500. Cessna 150 rental rates where $12 an hour, and the 172 we used for cross country was $15 an hour including fuel.

Training Begins

It started August of 1977. The fall semester rolls around, and I am enrolled in ground school, and if memory serves me, we met twice a week. First came the paperwork for my student pilot certificate, which at the time was included with the 3rd class medical. I loved ground school, especially learning navigation, plotting courses on the sectional, again this was before iPads and GPS, so we did a lot of dead reckoning and VOR navigation for cross countries. At the end of the course, I made an 83% on the Private Pilot written exam, remember this was before we had the question-and-answer books that on future test I would consume before taking a written.

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The fun really began on August 22, 1977, it was my first flight. To my surprise we used the same Cessna 150, N6228S that my friend Doug Gray had taken me for a ride in. The Cessna 150 had a standard VFR instrument panel, with one NAV/COM, and one VOR CDI. No intercom, so no headset, at the time I didn’t know what I was missing. I didn’t get my first headset until I started my instrument training in 2003. I was a big guy, I was 6’ 4” and weighed 245 lbs. but I do not remember being uncomfortable in the 150 even with the instructor in the right seat.

First flight lasted .8 hours, and we accomplished orentation, shallow turns, stability, and effects of flight controls. Over the next few months we added steep 720’s, slow flight, stalls, turns around a point, S-turns, emergencies, landings, (short field, soft field and normal).


At this point I want to talk about a training experience that still stands out. We were close to solo and were practicing takeoffs and landings. Turning base to final Jan got very upset at the way I was cross controlling the aircraft. Cross control is when you are in, say a left turn, and use opposite rudder to line the nose up with the runway. So, he had me depart the pattern and head east to the practice area, and climbing up to 5500 feet MSL, he had me slow down to just above stalling speed, start a left shallow turn and add right rudder. As the airplane stalled I had the strangest sensation, no roller coaster has ever come close, instead of blue sky in the windscreen I was looking at brown ground, and as far as I could tell we were upside down, through the terror of the moment Jan talked me out of the spin, controls neutral, oposite rudder, pull slowly out of the dive. As we leveled off he asked me what altitude we were at, as I remember it was around 2,800 feet MSL. Then he asked me what would happen if I experenced this on base to final in the traffic pattern. The answer was obvious, I would be a pile of wreckage off the end of the runway with a very short-lived aviation career. Needless to say this cured my cross-control tendencies.

Another training event the sticks out in my mind was the first time we did takeoffs and landings at the High School runway. The runway was 1,500 feet long, not sure of the width, but it seems like we had about 5 feet on each side of the wheels when on the center line of the runway. Landing from the south you also had to go between a cutout in the trees to be able to stop in time on the runway. After getting confortable landing here every runway since seemed huge. I remember landing at Chattanooga (KCHA) on a night cross country and commenting to Jan, that I felt like I could of landed sideways on the runway, it felt that large.

Very soon after this I started wearing old shirts to all my flight lessons, the reason for this occurred on February 8, 1978. The lesson that day was stalls, takeoffs and Landing. As we were taxing back in Jan told me it was time for my first solo. I was very excited, and after some last minute advice from Jan, including watch for floating on landing the plane will be light with him not in the right seat, complete 3 takeoffs and landings to a full stop. It was a blast, and at the end of my shirt was shorter in the back because Jan cut the tail out of it signed and dated my solo [an aviation tradition]. Total flight time accumulated on the day of my solo was 18.1 hours. I was now officially a pilot with solo priveleges.

In my next article I start cross country training, when Jan decided that it would be best accomplished this in the 172. Checking out in N5970R was like moving into a 747, this started a love affair with one of my faviriote planes to date. Since this time I have flown over 900 hours in many different models of the 172 and feel like I am stepping into an old friend every time.

More about Randy here: https://www.flyhpa.com/team/randy-delong/


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