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A God of inches and seconds saved couple in freeway plane crash

Fri, Sep. 08, 2017 Posted: 02:19 PM


By Mark Ellis

Shortly after takeoff from John Wayne Airport in Orange County, California, pilot Frank Pisano heard a sputtering sound in his right engine. Then the engine went dead. His wife Janan was sitting next to him and didn’t hear the sound through her headphones, but she heard his anguished cry to air traffic controllers: “Mayday!”

In their brief, four-minute flight, and the horrific fireball that consumed the plane after they crashed on the 405 Freeway, God displayed his awesome power to save their lives in a cascading series of intricately timed and perfectly sequenced miracles.

They took off at 9:30 a.m. on Friday June 30, 2017, the start of an extended Fourth of July holiday for many other travelers plying the busy freeway situated next to the airport. The Pisanos intended to fly to Scottsdale for a three-day vacation.

Frank, a financial planner, is the type of person who leaves nothing to chance. “In flight preparations, we follow real strict rules,” he notes. “It’s all about safety. We had some work done on the plane two weeks before. The day before we took it up and had an uneventful flight.”

They approached several couples to see if they wanted to go with them. Four couples turned them down for various reasons – which turned out to be one of many critical factors that contributed to their survival.

Frank is no novice as a pilot, with over 800 hours of flight time under his belt, including more than 500 hours in their 12-year-old, twin-engine Cessna 310.

“At about 400 feet the right engine started sputtering. It scared the hell out of me,” Frank says.

After the engine died, he immediately went to full power, full props, and full fuel. “I made sure the gear was up and the flaps were up, which they were. I immediately feathered the prop so we would get less drag on it and turned down wind” to circle back to the airport.

He knew the risk involved during take-off, with the plane climbing at a steep angle. After the loss of an engine, his small plane could flip upside down and crash.

“If another couple had been in the plane it may have flipped and crashed,” he says, knowing the additional weight at such a critical moment might have doomed their chances.

Remarkably, Frank was able to level the plane. “I raised the dead engine three degrees and had full rudder on my left foot. So the plane is flying on a slight angle,” he recounts.

But at 400 feet he knew he was in an inherently dangerous situation.

“Mayday! Mayday” he declared to the tower.

“State your intention,” came the reply.

“I’m coming back to land at John Wayne.”

After his emergency declaration, the airport’s normal flight operations shut down. “Southwest Airlines was coming in for a landing and they told Southwest to go around. There were three other jets behind them that had to circle,” he says.

Janan, feeling helpless, closed her eyes and began to pray. “God is with us, God is with us,” she said quietly, over and over.

Frank’s mind was racing at hyper speed. I’ve got to get this plane down. I don’t want my kids to be orphans. I can’t hurt Janan, he thought.

The tower called and said, “297, your gear’s not down.”

The momentary distraction caused him to stop providing full power and he started second-guessing what he was doing. He had not been planning to put the gear down until he hit the runway.

Suddenly he realized he was descending too fast. To make it to the runway, he had to clear 16 lanes of the 405 Freeway, miss the concrete center divider, fences, light poles and freeway signs – not to mention the congested traffic.

As soon as he put the landing gear down, the plane fell out of the sky like a lead balloon.

“Hold on tight!” he yelled to Janan.

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Mark Ellis