Losing engine power in a small, single-engine airplane immediately exposes the flight to additional risk, but in some circumstances, that added risk is a lot greater than other times. The latter applies to the forced landing of a Piper PA-28-Archer II in northern Italy recently, a landing that defied the odds in a big way. The pilot, a 22-year-old woman named Silvia De Bon, deserves huge praise for a Miracle-on-the-Hudson level save.
The small plane was on a sightseeing flight over the Dolomites, a spectacularly scenic mountain chain in the north of the country, when the plane’s engine quit. It’s not clear how high the plane was when this happened, but it was essentially amidst the peaks, which rise to 11,000 feet. To say there was nowhere to land is a huge understatement, and the word “land” is wishful thinking; it was a forced reunion with terra firma. The terrain is beyond jagged; the Dolomites are renowned for their exquisite cragginess, but somehow, De Bon spotted an area that looked like a possibly survivable place to put down—a steep, snow-covered slope. The landing on the slope must have been picture perfect; there’s only the after photos to share; in the video here around two-thirds in, you can see an angle that shows the slope. Steep! And it is just over 9,000 feet in elevation.
So, De Bon, who says the plane’s power loss gave her no choice but to put it down somewhere, aimed for that spot. Now, we’re used to landing on a flat surface, but De Bon, who had surely never landed on a steep upslope before, somehow knew she had to raise the nose very high at touchdown, and she did. The plane landed in deep snow. And all three aboard were able to walk away with minor injuries.
The last, really lucky part? There was a hikers’ cabin just a couple hundred yards up the slope.
The rescue came soon, and De Bon has become a bit of a celebrity in Italy for her quick thinking and preternatural flying acumen. She told a local news site that her father wants her to stop flying now, but she says, in true pilot fashion, that she thinks she’ll keep on flying anyway.