Jay Jarvis is lucky to be alive. Not many general aviation pilots lose power flying over a residential neighborhood and live to tell the tale.
Less than a month ago, Jarvis and three passengers stepped into a Beechcraft Bonanza plane at Hickory Regional Airport in North Carolina. The four were heading to Greenville, South Carolina, a flight that takes less than an hour to complete.
Moments after Jarvis got the plane airborne, he and his passengers were startled by a loud bang. This was not the sound of an engine struggling or sputtering; this was a small explosion, a catastrophic failure.
Recalling the incident, Jarvis told WSOCTV that he had about 15 to 20 seconds to set the plane down. There were many obvious dilemmas: he had to work to keep the plane from stalling and he had to somehow avoid the trees and houses he was currently flying over.
As the plane approached the ground, his last memory was barely clearing a house, then realizing that the nose of the plane was lined up to a tree. At the last second, he used his rudder to turn the plane slightly. This small reaction may have saved his life and the lives of his passengers, as the plane’s wing took the brunt of the impact rather than the passenger cabin.
Three of the passengers were taken to Frye Medical Center in Hickory with various injuries. Jarvis, who sustained the most serious injuries, was airlifted to Carolinas Medical Center. In the weeks since the crash, he has undergone a series of surgeries and is looking at lengthy rehabilitation to return to normal life.
He said he didn’t feel better about the crash until he spoke to the passengers on the plane. Once he knew that they were safe and not hurt too badly, he started to realize that he did the best he could with the hand he was dealt.
So far, the National Transportation Safety Board’s investigation corroborates Jarvis’s story. Examining the wreckage, officials found a hole in the engine case near the Number 1 cylinder.