Pilot, 82, uninjured in belly-landing | NevadaAppeal.com

Pilot, 82, uninjured in belly-landing

William Ferchland

When the wheels of his personal aircraft buckled, causing its steel belly to grind against a runway at South Tahoe Airport, pilot Irwin Feher didn’t flinch.

Neither did he panic as his Mooney 305 Rocket slid down the pavement, or as the ends of his three-pronged propeller bent backward from striking the hard surface – or as he faced costly repairs to his modified air machine.

It wasn’t the first time the 82-year-old had a not-so-smooth landing during more than 60 years of flying that included two wars and a cross-country race.

On Friday just before dusk, Feher, from Melba, Idaho, was approaching the airport for a visit with friends. He flew from Pomona, Calif., in his Mooney, which has capable of speeds up to 270 mph.

Feher said it took him about an hour and a half to get to Tahoe from Pomona, about 600 miles.

It was the same plane that earned him first place in the Great Cross County Air Race in 1997.

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Denver was the starting point with Oshkosh, Wis., as the finish.

Feher walked away without a scratch Friday. Emergency crews responded to the airport, but fire trucks quickly turned around.

Those who remained were law enforcement and city officials, including South Lake Mayor and pilot Tom Davis, who patted Feher on the back, glad he was OK.

“I felt I had wheels for a little bit then it swerved,” Feher told Davis on the tarmac.

“Ah, it collapsed under you,” Davis said.

“Yeah, it collapsed,” Feher said.

With his plane resting in the middle of the runway, Interim Airport Manager Rick Jenkins called the Federal Aviation Administration in Reno to have the runway closed.

City budget cuts caused the airport’s tower to close early last month. Davis didn’t think the closed tower contributed to the crash.

“It would have helped,” he said, adding staff in the tower could have notified authorities quicker.

Feher said he plans to fix his plane, which will likely prolong his stay in Tahoe.

A thin, white scratch ran parallel to the runway’s yellow center line where the plane scraped against the surface.

“Anytime you walk away (from a crash), it’s fantastic,” Davis said.

E-mail William Ferchland at wferchland@tahoedailytribune.com.