What it's like to run out of gas.

In case anyone wants to know what it feels like to run out of gas, I include the following story. It may hurt my chances of getting into a partnership for 'spooked' owners but it will help my chances for those that realize that I am the most unlikely guy to ever run out of gas again. 
  - Dr. Cyrus Wood-Thomas D.C.

A friend and I were flying a 2-seat amphibian aircraft from monument valley to an Airport called Cal Black in Southern Utah for fuel and to spend the night camping under the wings in preparation for flying Lake Powell the next day, when the engine started acting up and quit.

It sounded as though we had run out of gas because changes to mixture control, using the auxiliary fuel pump and power changes made little difference other than to extend the sputtering a few extra seconds. The electronic fuel totalizer said we had 8 gallons remaining. The regular fuel gauge said empty but had done that before when we were not empty.

Just three days earlier I used a dip stick in the tank itself to verify that the fuel totalizer was correct and that the ordinary instrument panel gauge was faulty. So we trusted the totalizer. (It's still a mystery and requires more investigation). The bad part was that we were over rough terrain at night and only 1000 feet above the ground. We were only 8 miles from the airport. By the time I had played with the engine controls we were down to 500 ft. We tightened our dual shoulder straps and I called in a Mayday to Cal Black but we were already too low for them to hear us.

Richard then started chanting "HU", an ancient name for God, I joined him for a bit but my voice was very shaky. This raised the level of seriousness for me. We were preparing for death. Richard then said the rocky terrain below was running perpendicular to our path and that I should turn left to land. Airspeed was low, I lowered the nose, turned left, my legs shook uncontrollably. I said, "I don't need this", obviously a mistake, and headed for the only light colored patch I could see below and to my left.

Lower the nose to prevent a stall, landing without a proper setup as to a road or field, with gear down, flaps set, and all electrical off, was against every instinct in my body. I literally dove for that clear spot. It was at this point that the memories began which create utter terror in me today if I relive the moment. It wasn't as though I could just shut down and take what was coming to me. I had to continue to fly and aim the machine at what I thought was the terrain that would slash us to death. Although it was our best alternative, I was preparing to buy the farm. The level of fright and complete horror in my bones is indescribable, however, my life did not pass before my eyes.

If I flared we'd have overshot it. I may have raised the nose to level but we hit red sand at about 75 mph. The last I remember is the sight of the clear spot 20 ft below. Richard said he pulled his feet close to him, put his hands behind his head and was surrounded in a golden light!

On impact the dash and floor on Richard's side met each other, (he'd have lost his feet) the tail section broke off almost completely, and the plane shot about 15 feet into the air rolling to the left. The left wing broke off 5 ft from its end as we rolled inverted. The nose then went down and we impacted the ground the second and last time, coming to a complete stop, stuck into the ground at a 45 degree angle, upside down with the airplane bent, as if arched backward, like a banana, only 40 feet from our initial impact point.

Richard was conscious so he checked for broken bones, got out and helped me get my foot unstuck from behind a peddle. We stood by this pile of aluminum amazed that neither of us had a broken bone or severely bleeding laceration. Incredible. "I guess we are supposed to be here Richard", I said.

We grabbed the sleeping bags and headed for the airport in the little light that remained (20 minutes worth before total darkness) but had to put down for the night because we would have hurt ourselves, unable to see well and hobbling as it was. My flight plan was left with our last airport of departure but they didn't know we'd crashed. When your destination is a lake to go camping it's hard to file a regular flight plan because often there is no place near the destination from which to close the flight plan.

The next morning (I got 3 hours sleep and Richard got none) we hiked back to the plane. The ELT (emergency locator transmitter) had activated from impact but was thrown from the plane and severed from it's plane-mounted antenna. We located its portable antenna, hooked up a mike to it and transmitted on 121.5 when jets would fly above. We did not send off an emergency blip to the orbiting satellite because we did not want to alert civil air patrol.

The airport was a relatively short walk away (we saw it clearly from our camp site) and figured we would call home as soon as we reached the airport. Due to our joint sprains and muscle strains we could not lift our feet more than 12 inches off the ground so our hike took the flattest route possible. We anticipated walking for 2 or 3 hours. The disappointment at not finding the airport within that time was devastating. Due to our fatigue, even though we walked very slowly, we were still in an aerobic state, breathing heavily the whole time, and had to rest every 1/4 mile for 5 minutes. That's 32 rest stops in all! Near the end our rests lead to falling asleep....most dangerous in the bright sun.

We fantasized about water fountains, hoses and coke machines. I tried to 'relocate' the two of us to our destination but it didn't work so I rationalized that there's something in this for the both of us. We rarely spoke to each other, other than to give emotional support. Richard, at one point, demanded that all the local plant life give him their energy so he could make it.

At the half way point we completely lost sight of the airport, thinking we had passed it somehow (you can't see well from the valleys, only well from atop the mesas). The possibility of death by thirst gave me an adrenalin©sick rush of death. I did NOT want to die by thirst. Richard assured me we could make Lake Powell in four hours even if we did not find the airport. I agreed but was already in the first stages of dehydration, recognizing the symptoms in myself from my medical trip to India years ago.

Once atop the next mesa we saw the airport clearly 4 miles away. It would be a grueling two hours but water was guaranteed. Our throats were dry and the sun was near its zenith. We started to suspect the appearances of the airport. The size of the buildings wasn't always consistent with its distance from us. We both think the ECK was causing the airport to 'appear' for us wherever it needed to in order to encourage us to walk in a straight line.

We had broken camp at 4:15 am and did not reach the airport until 12:15 pm. The 8 hour hike was performed on 3 cups of water for the two of us in 98 degree heat. Richard hypothesized that maybe in the past he and I were pirates and sank some poor fellows boat, forcing him to swim 8 miles to land with no fresh water! In the end we had walked in a straight line from crash site to airport.

Over the next tow hours, we guzzled a gallon each and hosed ourselves down. The owners gave us fresh clothes and let us sleep in their room. The man there even offered an entire plan to salvage half the value of the amphibian (engine and instruments) since it's not insured (the cost is prohibitive)! The parts will go into another simpler aircraft as I use it to fly to different ECKANKAR events and meetings around the state.

I should add that in the past year I have lost all the material assets I acquired as a physician for the past 15 years; the plane was the last 'thing' to go. And I thought I was going to get to keep it since I had rebuilt it myself!

Lori, my wife, drove 5 hours to pick us up. Man, was it nice to see her. Richard, a real trooper and boyscout, my probable brother of many lives, stayed on at the house to recover before returning to Florida. There isn't much I would not have done differently and am slowly ceasing to beat myself up. But, had I landed earlier and avoided the crash, I today would not be as humble, not as in awe of life itself, not as reassured of my ability to persevere or of my spiritual mission in life. And I would not be as in love with my wife.

Two weeks later:

Lori and I went out to the desert to retrieve some parts off the plane. First we flew the area with the local airport operator to get a fix on the craft. We flew the 5.8 miles to the plane so quickly in the cessna 210 at160 mph that it was hard to believe; it had taken us 8 hours to hike it!

(back to the airport, we headed for the wreck)

On the way in, the fellow on the three wheeler left us in the dust, expecting us to follow his tracks directly to the plane: a 5.8 mile hike at high noon. We had some water with us but he (the fellow on the three wheeler) had the rest of the water, and the radio with him.

Half way there, Lori was suffering from heat stroke and we were out of water. I COULD NOT BELIEVE THIS WAS HAPPENING AGAIN! Just the way it had happened to Richard and I two weeks earlier!! Lori just wanted to lie under a tree and wait for help. I encouraged her to continue, for the sooner we reached the plane the sooner we would have water.

Finally, we heard the three wheeler returning. He had reached the plane, dumped the tools and tent, returned to find us dehydrated, and would now take Lori back to the plane for water. I hiked on without difficulty. We removed what we could safely, the engine was too difficult and dangerous to tackle although we tried initially. The three wheeler guy left saying he'd pick us up at 10 am the next morning.

I did not like being there and did not want to spend the night so we stripped the dash and headed out with all the water we had. We made it back to the VW van in 2 hours, went to Lake Powell to camp, and felt much better having left it all behind.

This was closure on the whole affair. I felt great. The next day the fellow went back in with the three wheeler and retrieved the trailer with the tent, tools and avionics. We rented a skiff at Lake Powell and went swimming. I took a great loss on this whole affair but gained the wisdom that those with near death experiences usually gain.....that there is a power higher than ourselves helping to orchestrate our lives.