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Saturday, September 23, 2023
Niagara pilot won’t let emergency landing keep him grounded
Gord Tessier has been a member of CASARA for around 11 years. The training learned with them helped him remain calm and efficient during Sunday's emergency landing. JULIA SACCO Julia Sacco

Surviving an emergency plane landing might be enough to keep many people from flying again, but for pilot Gord Tessier it’s all in the handbook.

Tessier, a member of the Civil Air Search and Rescue Association Ontario (CASARA) was returning to NOTL’s Niagara District Airport from a training session with his wife and a co-pilot Sunday afternoon in North Bay when he realized something was wrong with his Cessna 337.

Tessier said that after a few moments in the air, he took a look to his left and realized one of the landing gear doors hadn’t shut.

“They open when the gear goes up and shut when the gear goes down they slam shut, just like slamming the door on my house. So, it was stuck down,” he told The Lake Report.

He then began to test if the gear would still deploy.

“Once we were at a level of about 1,000 feet making our way back home. We tried to put the gear down and it wouldn’t deploy,” Tessier said.

He immediately went through a number of checklists in the flight manual on board and when nothing worked, he contacted with the Toronto terminal to declare a “Pan-Pan,” one step below a full “mayday” emergency.

The information was relayed to the airport in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

“That’s my base, this is where I’m familiar with. I know the airport well and it is where all the help and resources are,” he said.

Once the plane got to the north side of Lake Ontario, Tessier again tried to deploy the landing gear using the backup system. It failed again.

“We tried a few more things. We poured some oil that we had on board into the reservoir. No difference.”

At that point, Tessier said they just circled around for an hour until all the pieces were in place and the EMS and fire department were in position on the ground in NOTL.

“At that time we were carrying about 80 gallons of high-octane fuel on board. So, if there was a fire we wanted to make sure that they were there to put it out immediately,” Tessier said.

The Cessna landed on a patch of grass next to NOTL’s runway 01. 

“We came down at a nice slow speed,” Tessier said.

“We have a G-Meter on board and we only hit 1.2 Gs. You and I are sitting here at 1 G. It didn’t even initiate the emergency beacon on impact.”

Tessier said that he was able to save one of the aircraft’s engines, but the front sustained some significant damage. 

“I tried to stop the engines. If you can get the propeller to be horizontal there’s a good chance you won’t damage anything,” he said.

“I got one for two.”

Remarkably, Tessier remained calm throughout the entire ordeal. 

“I’m a CASARA pilot, so I’m a civil air search and rescue commander and we train for this all the time,” he said.

“When we get on the plane, that’s part of our checklist. ‘OK, in an off-airport landing, what happens?’ ” 

Tessier added that the plane still had three hours of fuel left at the time of landing, allowing everyone on board lots of time to prepare for a safe exit.

This incident isn’t the only nearly perilous experience Tessier has had in the air either. In his 11 years with CASARA and nearly 20 years flying, he’s had three close calls.

“This is the third box I’ve checked,” Tessier said.

He experienced an engine failure during takeoff when helping out with the relief effort after the Haiti earthquake in 2010. He also endured a bird strike a few years ago which took off a chunk of his plane’s wing while airborne.

“I think I’m running out of things to happen,” Tessier joked. 

He said that when the bird strike happened he was searching for a man who had fallen off his boat into the lake. A rescue team of RCAF Hercules aircraft came to provide an escort.

“It was ironic because I do a lot of the training with our military here and it’s usually me pretending to be a disabled aircraft,” he said. Then, “the same thing happened for real.” 

Even in those moments, Tessier insists that he never questioned flying again. 

“I need to get back in the saddle as soon as possible,” he said.

After the emergency landing, he and his wife went to the Keg to relax and decompress.

“They asked if we had anything to celebrate and my wife said, ‘Yeah, we’re alive!’ ” Tessier said.

He and his co-pilot will get flying again in the coming week, but it will be a while before he is up in his Cessna 337 again – if at all.

“If the aircraft is written off, I’ll start looking for another plane and if they can fix it I’ll be lucky if it’s December or January,” he said.

Tessier expressed his gratitude to the team of responders who helped him at the scene and to CASARA for equipping him with the tools to survive emergency situations.

“As soon as we opened the door, there was the fire department, the airport people were there within seconds. This is just as much a story about them. They were fantastic,” he said.

Dan Pilon, CEO of the Niagara District Airport, said airport personnel are always prepared in case of emergency, and dealt with a grounded aircraft in 2018.

“We go through this on a regular basis. We’re a certified airport so we do all the various training,” Pilon said.

“We’re thankful that everyone walked away.”

Tessier urged people to learn more about CASARA, a nationwide volunteer-based organization dedicated to providing air search support services in downed aircraft and humanitarian efforts. Its website is casara.ca.

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