Oops! Pilot forgets landing gear

Monday, July 16, 2007

MIDDLESBORO, Ky. -- A pilot ran through the usual steps of getting ready to land his small plane, except for one little thing -- he forgot to lower his landing gear.

Without wheels, Thomas Lepsch's Beechcraft Bonanza skidded a few hundred feet down the runway at Middlesboro/Bell County Airport before coming to a stop Thursday.

"I'd never been at this airport before," Lepsch said. "There's a routine you go through as you prepare for a landing. I was distracted by another plane taking off and simply forgot to lower the landing gear. It was pilot error."

Lepsch, 50, of Kingsport, Tenn., was not hurt, and he said there appeared to be little damage to his small plane, which he has owned since 1985.

He said he didn't have time to panic during his unconventional landing because he was concentrating on controlling the plane and shutting off the fuel supply.

"There was a moment when I saw smoke and sparks when I thought of my four children and thought to myself that I wasn't ready for them to be without a father," he said. "I thought 'I sure hope I don't go up in a ball of fire."'

Lepsch had been flying over eastern Kentucky "to scout out some good fishing sites."

He said he considered driving, but after a storm front cleared out "it looked like a beautiful day for flying."

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