From the pages of
The Sublette County Journal
Volume 4, Number 30 - 3/23/00
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Fomer Pinedale Resident Safely Lands Crippled Airplane in San Francisco
Mike Cavanaugh hailed as a hero by friends, pilots
by Jennifer Binning

Just after takeoff, the crew of Delta AirLines flight 1972 knew something was amiss. According to a report by CNN, an indicator light alerted the pilot, former Pinedale resident Mike Cavanaugh, that the right main landing gear was stuck in a half retracted position.

The San Francisco Examiner reported that the plane leveled off well before cruising altitude and Captain Cavanaugh immediately informed his passengers of the landing gear failure. He then radioed a maintenance crew on the ground, which tried to diagnose and fix the problem while the plane was in the air.

After circling the Bay Area for about an hour, the decision was made for flight 1972 en route to Salt Lake City to dump her fuel and return to the San Francisco airport for an emergency landing.

At this point flight attendants prepared the passengers for a rough landing, and according to the Examiner, passenger Shari Kendall of Maryland said this was the scariest part of the ordeal. Waiting for touchdown "seemed forever" she said, "we didn't know when it was going to be."

Jim McLellan, a long time pilot and friend of Mr. Cavanaugh, has a pretty good idea what was going on in the cockpit when they landed. In an interview on Tuesday, Mr. McLellan said the crew probably set the plane down on the two working wheels, and tried to balance until the airspeed dropped to a point where the right wing was no longer able to provide any lift. At this point the wing tip touched down, sending a shower of sparks into the night sky, which were quickly cooled by waiting emergency crews.

Flight 1972 came to a rest just after 9 p.m. MST, and the relieved passengers spontaneously broke into applause. Joe Burschinger from Los Angeles told the Examiner "I gotta tell you, I've had rougher landings on normal flights."

According to longtime friend and pilot Stan Murdock, Mr. Cavanaugh is an extraordinary pilot who is very comfortable when flying, and a real stickler for safety, a notion backed up by Jim McLellan. "Mike can fly anything made. I have pulled him behind my tow plane and you can always tell it is Mike in the glider. He is just so easy to pull." He adds that when Mr. Cavanaugh is not flying a big plane, he is at the controls of his remote control little one.

Mr. McLellan said that his friend will be busy helping the FAA, National Transportation and Safety Board, Boeing and Delta Air lines investigate why his landing gear malfunctioned.

All 79 passengers and 7 crew left the plane via inflatable slides and were unhurt, largely due to Mr. Cavanaugh's skill in landing the aircraft so gently that it will be back in service in just 4 days, according to a source close to the investigation.

Mr. McLellan, a pilot with 32 years experience himself said "Everytime I flew with Mike, I learned something new," adding that had he been a passenger on flight 1972, he would have wanted Mike in the cockpit, too.

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