Light aircraft makes emergency landing

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By John Roe, Edited by Michael Burgess
Page 3, 3/14/03

Ultralight aircraft pilot John Wood and his passenger Amber Merz were forced to make an emergency landing on the South Bay Salt Flats March 8. Neither Wood, from Spring Valley, nor Merz, a home-schooled 12-year-old from Fallbrook, were injured.

Merz said they made a rough landing about 20 seconds after they knew there was a problem and Wood’s radio Mayday attempts failed.

“He tried before we crashed. He told them that we were going down and, after that, his radio got disconnected and he couldn’t reconnect it,” she said.

Wood’s ultralight, named “Kolb Firestar,” is a powered flying machine used for training. It weighs less than 496 pounds, has a top speed of 63 mph, stalls at 28 mph or less and carries no more than 10 gallons of fuel. It is based at Brown Field in Otay Mesa.

David Smith, flight coordinator for the Young Eagles program which organized the flight, said a flight safety check was done on the craft the previous day and everything was OK. According to flying enthusiast Manny Ramirez, who was at Brown Field that day, a propeller problem made the emergency landing necessary. Wood was unavailable for comment.

Merz is one of about 20 participants so far to take part in the Young Eagles program at Brown Field every second Saturday of the month, where volunteers from the Experimental Aircraft Association take 8- to 17-year-olds up in the air to encourage interest in flying.

Undaunted by the experience, Merz said she has no fear of flying.

“Riding my dirt bike is more dangerous than flying in an Ultralight,” she said on her return to the hangar. “I might get to go again next month.”

A call to South Bay Salt Works on March 11 was met with bewilderment. Office staff said the company was unaware of a plane landing on its property over the weekend.

The distinguished former X-1 pilot General Chuck Yeager is the honorary chairman of the Young Eagles program. The EAA is hoping to have one million participants by Dec. 17, the 100th anniversary of the first powered flight by the Wright Brothers. More than 884,000 have taken part so far.

The EAA is an international aviation membership association founded in 1953. It has more than 165,000 members, with chapters located in all 50 states and many countries. The membership is composed of airline and commercial pilots, engineers, business people and astronauts. The Young Eagles program is sponsored by the EAA Aviation Foundation, a charitable non-profit organization “dedicated to the discovery and fulfillment of individual potential through personal flight.”

The Young Eagles Web site is To enroll, call (877) 806-8902.


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