CHANDLER, Ariz. (KSAZ) - A Valley surgeon and three of his employees were back at work Tuesday morning, a day after the plane they were all in went down unexpectedly in a field near Chandler.
The pilot, Dr. Peter Spanganberg, is a facial and oral surgeon who flies his plane to his other office in Yuma two to three times a week. On Monday, however, something went wrong, and the engine died as Dr. Spanganberg and three others were still in the air.
Dr. Spanganberg was about five minutes away from Chandler Municipal Airport, but he knew he wouldn't make it, and he didn't want to try to land around the nearby houses. So he decided to take the plane down in the fields located on the Gila River Indian Reservation.
"At that point, the power was completely off," said Dr. Spanganberg. "The engine was silent, and it becomes a glider."
As Dr. Spanganberg realized he was not going to make it to Chandler, he and his three passengers were about 3500-feet in the air.
"There really wasn't enough time to be scared or panic," said Dr. Spanganberg. "That's one of the things you're trained to do is think clearly, and think of a way to land the plane."
Dr. Spanganberg steered the plane toward an alfalfa field. His surgical assistant was also on board, and said it all happened in a matter of seconds.
First, she felt the engine sputter
"It chucked again and the propeller stopped," said Ashli Robertson. "That freaked me out a little bit. I said, 'oh my god', and I saw smoke coming from the engine."
Since the landing gear wasn't working, Dr. Spanganberg instructed Robertson to open the door as they descended into the field.
"When we got close to the ground, we opened the doors and hung on to it," said Robertson.
The plane carved a trail through the field before coming to a stop. It was a bumpy landing, but all four onboard walked away from the plane, unhurt. Despite the scary ordeal, Dr. Spanganberg said this wasn't the most stressful situation he's been in.
"I worked at a county hospital in California where we were dealing with violence,
said Dr. Spanganberg. "Gunshots, facial trauma, so I've been in more stressful situations where you're dealing with someone's life, and there are split second decisions to make."
Dr. Spanganberg said the engine was fairly new, and the plane just passed its annual inspection a week ago. Meanwhile, the FAA is investigating what went wrong.