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Airplane hose caused the drama in the sky

A 12-inch high-pressure hydraulic hose is the reason a Farmington couple’s airplane wound up in trouble Saturday.

That’s according to airplane mechanic and Regional Airport Manager Larry McCormick who worked on the plane Monday. He removed the hose that is designed to fill with hydraulic fluid and push the landing gear up into place. It had burst at one end and that’s what he thinks caused fluid to leak out and the gear to fall down during the flight.

“What saved the airplane was that the other hose — the downside hose — was not punctured,” said McCormick. “So when they put fluid, or in this case, oil, into the hydraulic reservoir, that actually filled the lines. When he (the pilot) turned power on the gear, it extended and locked into place.”

With the hose in his hands, McCormick showed the frayed end where it connected to the plane. He said the hose showed no signs of wear and would not have created concern in a pre-flight inspection. The airplane underwent its annual inspection about a month ago. There was no hydraulic fluid on the floor of the hangar where the plane is stored to show it had leaked prior to flight.

McCormick owned the 1980 model Cessna for 13 years before he sold it to McCormick. He doesn’t remember ever replacing the hoses. He will replace it, along with a second hose on the Conklins’ plane and planned to call another pilot with the same plane based at the Farmington airport and suggest he have his hoses replaced, too. The parts cost about $120.

Rick and Donna Conklin took off Saturday morning for Nebraska and 40 minutes into the flight, the main landing gear came down and wouldn’t lock into place. On the ground, emergency crews gathered at the airport, preparing for a possible crash landing. For almost four hours, the pilot worked with the crew on the ground to find a way to lock the gear in place so they could land.

“It was actually Terry Propst, a pilot from Festus who was flying overhead in another airplane who suggested we try the oil,” McCormick explained.

Donna Conklin crawled underneath the dash as McCormick guided her to the tiny opening where she poured motor oil into a funnel made of paper and duct tape to fill the reservoir. He says she was the hero of the day.

When she showed up for work in the lab at Mineral Area Regional Medical Center Monday, Donna says there was a little “hoopla” before work started. Rick’s co-workers at Parkland Health Center greeted him at his office door.

“Probably Sunday it kicked in just what we’d been through,” said Rick. “You kinda re-think everything. The good Lord was with us and a lot of people were working on ideas on the ground to get us down.”

While many small planes have landing gear that’s not designed to go up, Rick specifically bought a plane with retractable gear. He said having the gear up allows the plane to fly faster and that’s great for long trips.

“Donna has made the comment there may be a lot of advantages to having gear that’s cemented on the plane to stay in one place,” he said with a chuckle.

Rick Conklin has always wanted to fly and got his license about a year ago. His dad and step-father flew in the military. His two sons have planes. He said his sons were mighty impressed with the way their parents brought down their troubled plane. His daughter was more anxious when she heard the news.

“She and her baby were supposed to be with us on that flight,” he explained. “She was glad they weren’t.”

Donna said she and her husband decided the best place to be after their frightening experience was at church and so they went to mass at St. Joseph Catholic Church Saturday night and learned their church family had been praying for them.

“There was another prayer chain going, too, as people heard about it,’ she said. “Everyone has been really great and supportive. Our neighbors brought us a disaster survival box with hydraulic fluid, a siphon pump and energy candy Sunday after they read it in the paper.”

In the meantime, McCormick said putting the oil where hydraulic fluid should have gone did not harm the airplane, which the Conklins hope to fly this weekend.

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