By Jeffrey Hage
Princeton Union Eagle
Barry Ramage didn’t panic.
As the Cessna 152 aircraft he was piloting lost power over Princeton on the morning of Tuesday, Nov. 22, he remembered the advice of his instructor Jason Erickson.
“You make a plan and you stick with it,” Ramage said.
That’s exactly what Ramage did. And there’s a good chance that quick thinking and paying attention to his instructor’s lesson saved his life.
Ramage walked away without injuries Tuesday, Nov. 22 after an emergency landing of the training aircraft near the Princeton Municipal Airport.
The plane lost all power after reaching an altitude of 400 feet after taking off from the airport just before 11 a.m.
Ramage was able to glide the plane over an agricultural field owned by Prairie Restorations off of Sherburne County Road 42 in Baldwin Township.
The plane flipped end-over-end when it touched down and sustained heavy damage.
The Princeton Fire Department, Princeton Police Department, North Ambulance and the Mille Lacs County Sheriff’s Department assisted the Sherburne County Sheriff’s Department at the scene. A North Memorial helicopter was also dispatched to the scene. The crash remains under investigation by both the Sherburne County Sheriff’s Department and the Federal Aviation Administration.
Any investigation will show that Ramage stuck to his plan.
Ramage, a student pilot with just 13 hours of flying under his belt, had just completed his first solo flight four days earlier.
He was taking flying lessons because FLR Sanders, the Princeton-based gymnasium flooring company he co-owns had purchased a Comanche aircraft. His two partners have pilot licenses and can fly the plane. Ramage wanted to, also.
So he began taking lessons at Jason Erickson’s flight school based at the Princeton airport.
On Tuesday, Nov. 22 Ramage headed for the skies for another day of flying.
It was a perfect day. With Erickson in the cockpit, Ramage practiced takeoffs, landings and some flying maneuvers.
When it came time to fly solo, Ramage executed the first two of three takeoffs and landings to full stops with ease.
“Everything went real well,” Ramage said.
Then came the third flight set.
“I taxied out, took off and climbed out about 350 to 400 feet above the ground,” Ramage said.
That’s when he experienced engine failure.
“I heard a very loud pop, followed by a loss of power and a severe vibration,” Ramage said.
But he says despite just a few days as a pilot, he had good training and knew what to do.
“I pulled the power back and got the vibrating to stop,” he said.
He then implemented a carburetor heat system to prevent lockup.
“Then I looked for a place to land,” Ramage said.
Ramage, flying south, knew he couldn’t make a sharp turn and head back to the runway.
“As a pilot you’re trained to look for a field ahead of you,” he said.
Ramage found his field west of Co. Rd. 45 on Prairie Restorations’ land and preceded to bring down the plane. His plane went 115 feet after touching down at a speed Ramage estimates at about 70 miles per hour. The plane landed end-over-end, landing upside down in the agricultural field. There was heavy damage to the wings, wheels and the propeller.
But what’s important is that Barry Ramage had survived — and without as much as a scratch.
The door to the cockpit opened on impact, Ramage said. He unbuckled his seat belt, pulled off his headset. He then turned off the ignition and the master switch.
Ramage exited the plane but soon noticed while walking around that his glasses were missing. He went back inside the plane to retrieve his glasses.
By that time emergency services personnel were beginning to arrive on scene.
His well-being can be attributed to Erickson, his instructor.
“Fly the airplane, Jason told me.”
“A lot of things can happen really fast in a situation where a plane loses power,” Ramage said.
“Decisions are made instantaneously. If you commit to something that works it will keep you alive,” he said.
Ramage says he didn’t panic. Nor did he let fear control him.
“But there is no question about it. I was terrified,” Ramage said.
When found in a situation where there were just seconds to make a life-or-death decision, Ramage chose to follow the words of his instructor.
“I stayed in control of the airplane,” he said.
As a 13-hour student pilot, Ramage is the first to admit there were some factors other than being a skilled pilot at play.
“Obviously there was some luck involved,” Ramage said.
Ramage says being a pilot is invigorating. The experience stimulates all of one’s senses and muscles.
“When you (pilot a plane) you feel very much alive,” he said.
And Ramage proved that if a pilot keeps his wits about him and follows through with a plan, it can be the difference between tragedy and keeping oneself alive.