JEFFERSON-Two Atlanta men walked away from an emergency plane landing in Jefferson Friday morning with little more than a seat belt burn and an incredible story to tell.
Pilot Rishi Nagrani and passenger Neil Renfroe, two Atlanta-area businessmen, were forced to land their small private plane in a horse pasture off of Dog Creek Road shortly before 9 a.m. Friday.
The pair were traveling north in a 2004 Cirrus SR-20 for a business meeting and had attempted to land the four-seat aircraft at Ashe County Airport.
But with winds gusting up to 55 miles per hour, according to the National Weather Service, the weather didn’t play to the pair’s advantage, according to Renfroe.
“We saw the landing strip and we were trying to come in but the wind was so strong,” Renfroe said. “The wind just kept pushing us past the runway.”
Renfroe said he realized the pair were in trouble when the plane, despite a stiff tailwind, started losing speed.
“I could see it on the digital screen that we were losing speed bad,” Renfroe said. “And the throttle was maxed out, and I was screaming inside my head.”
Luckily, the aircraft came equipped with a parachute system built to handle just such an emergency.
“We pulled the chute and I wasn’t sure what would happen. I had no idea,” Renfroe said. “But we just started slowing and at that point I could see the ground.”
The plane drifted slowly to earth and landed – upright on its landing gear – in a horse pasture just off Dog Creek Road. The only visible sign the plane had been involved in an accident was a single propeller blade caked in mud, and the deflated parachute lying nearby.
Renfroe said he remembers the impact feeling relatively light under the circumstances. He had only a small seat belt burn on his left shoulder, he said.
“The impact wasn’t that bad,” Renfroe said. “Definitely not like it could have been. We both just screamed, ‘We made it man.”
Shortly before noon Friday, the plane remained in the pasture as authorities attempted to find a way to remove it from the scene, and the North Carolina Highway Patrol continues to investigate the accident.
As for Renfroe, he said you’ll never seen him climb in the cabin of a private plane ever again.
“It sounds cliche, but you really do feel glad to be alive after something like that. It’s a beautiful day,” Renfroe said. “I don’t think my wife would ever let me fly a private plane again, either.”
Reach Adam Orr at 336-489-3058 or Twitter.com/AdamROrr.