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Faulty fuel system may be to blame

The pilot who landed on the Golden Center Freeway Friday thinks an obstruction in his fuel delivery system might have caused him to lose power, forcing a quick descent.

“At first, I thought it might have been contaminated fuel,” said Rick Harmon, 45, of Nevada City.

After paying Fischer Towing $150 to return his Cessna 150 to the Nevada County Airport, Harmon had a mechanic start the plane up.



“It ran a few minutes and then it went down to idle speed, which won’t keep you flying,” Harmon said. The mechanic will now break down the entire fuel system to see if an obstruction is causing the problem.

Training kicked in for Harmon after he started losing engine rpms, he said. While learning to be a pilot, Harmon often was shown what to do after the engine cuts out and what to do if he had to land without an airport.




“I was under a great deal of stress, but with my training, I was able to proceed with the proper action,” Harmon said.

“I climbed out at 2,500 rpms, but then it dropped to 1,800,” Harmon said. “At 1,800, a plane will still fly, so I turned it around, and then the engine dropped to 1,000, and at 1,000, the plane has to land.

“I had just passed over the cemetery” next to the Nevada Irrigation District building in Grass Valley when the engine power waned, Harmon said.

He often had thought about using the Golden Center Freeway as an emergency landing strip because “the terrain is so bad for off-field landings here because it’s so steep,” Harmon said.

“At some airports where you’re short, you hit weeds or a field, but here, it’s a fatal crash,” Harmon said.

The plane ran just fine in a recent flight to Willows and Corning, Harmon said.

He contacted the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Air Transportation Safety Board about the incident from the scene on the freeway below the Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital, the pilot said.

The FAA told him that, because there was no crash, no injuries and no harm to property, there probably would be no citations or violations, Harmon said. He also was up-to-date with his physical exam to fly and the plane had been checked out for a two-year review just last year.

“I don’t believe I’m in any trouble,” Harmon said. “It was a good outcome.”

There was no need to cite Harmon, whose plane blocked only one of the freeway’s eastbound lanes for about one hour, said Officer Dina Hernandez at the Grass Valley office of the California Highway Patrol.

“He’d already suffered enough,” Hernandez said Tuesday.

The mishap was the second one involving a small plane from the local airport this year. In February, Grass Valley pilot Steve Wilson died when his experimental plane crashed on Banner Mountain, near Nevada City.

Wilson’s crash is still under investigation, and a cause will not be announced until some time this summer, an official with the National Air Transportation Safety Board said. A preliminary report on the crash said a witness heard the engine quit just before Wilson crashed through some trees onto a private lot.


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