Oh, Deer (Part 1)

As far as I knew when I woke up, October 26, 2016 would be an ordinary day for me. It was a Wednesday, and I was scheduled to fly our Company’s BE58 Baron on a charter from Wings Field (KLOM), a non-towered airport just north of Philadelphia, to Pittsburgh International Airport (KPIT) and spend the […]


As far as I knew when I woke up, October 26, 2016 would be an ordinary day for me. It was a Wednesday, and I was scheduled to fly our Company’s BE58 Baron on a charter from Wings Field (KLOM), a non-towered airport just north of Philadelphia, to Pittsburgh International Airport (KPIT) and spend the day there waiting for my 3 passengers to finish up their meetings. The plan was to fly them back to Wings that evening and then make the short hop back to home base at Lancaster, PA. (KLNS).

It was a flight that I had done countless times, and I was comfortable with the airports, the passengers, and the airplane. Everything went smoothly that morning and my short flight from Lancaster to Wings was uneventful. I even made it there in time to spill coffee all down the front of my pants before my passengers arrived. The weather was clear, calm and beautiful as we loaded into the Baron and the sun was just starting to come up as I taxied toward runway 24 for departure. I was departing VFR and had an IFR plan on file which I intended to pick up with Harrisburg Approach once we were airborne. According to my calculations, I was on schedule to be drinking my coffee at the Pittsburgh FBO right around 8:30.

At 7:05, I advanced the throttles for departure. A few moments later, I received a very unpleasant surprise. I was quickly approaching rotation speed when 2 deer ran onto the runway directly in front of the aircraft. It was still dark enough that I was relying on my landing/ taxi lights to illuminate the runway for take-off.  As a result, I was unable to see the animals before it was too late. I don’t remember making a conscious decision to pull back on the yoke, but it was that or plow directly into them at about 85 knots. I pulled up as quickly as I could and the airplane rotated immediately.  A fraction of a second later I heard and felt a sickening THUD.

There was no doubt that I had hit one of them, but, somewhat unbelievably, the airplane was climbing as though nothing had happened. I put the nose down to get the airspeed back up and began to try and piece together what damage the airplane had sustained. Based on the noise and the feeling of the impact, my suspicion was that I had hit the deer with the left main landing gear. A review of the instrumentation showed no abnormalities and the airplane was behaving normally, so I didn’t suspect any damage to the airframe/ flight controls. I couldn’t see anything out the windows that looked unusual, and somewhat unbelievably I still had 3 green lights.

After gaining a safe amount of speed and altitude, I turned around and told the passengers that we had hit a deer. It was obvious that we had hit something and I was sure that they wanted to know what was going on. Then, I checked all my indications again and satisfied with what I was seeing, tried to bring up the landing gear. No dice. When I pulled the gear lever to the up position, the master “GEAR UP” warning light came on and I got a horn. There was never any change in the 3-green indication and the gear motor never came to life at all.

At this point it was obvious that, minimally I was going to have to divert to Lancaster and have the maintenance guys look at the airplane to see if anything was broken. I figured that they would either give me the green light to continue or I would just jump into one of our PC12s and complete the trip while they worked on the Baron.

The landing gear’s refusal to come up was my first indication that there was substantial damage. I set course for Lancaster and called our Chief Pilot. After explaining the situation to him, we agreed that KLNS was the best option and that he would let the maintenance guys know that I was coming.

The logic was that proceeding to Lancaster would allow a visual check of the landing gear by maintenance people as well as the tower and result in the safest outcome if an emergency landing were required. Lancaster would likely have better services available in terms of emergency responders and, not to mention, I was fairly certain that there was a dead deer on the only runway at Wings that I didn’t feel like hitting for a second time. In addition, the relatively long runway at Lancaster combined with light traffic at that time of day made it the ideal option to divert to.

I again turned around to brief the passengers. I told them that we were going to have to make precautionary landing before continuing to our intended destination and that I would be performing a few low passes for the tower.

Due to the drag from the landing gear, the flight to Lancaster seemed to take forever. The long cruise home, however, gave me time to try and reach someone on the ground at Wings in hope of having the runway inspected and cleaned off before other traffic tried to use it. After several attempts to raise anyone on the Unicom/ CTAF frequency, I called Philadelphia Approach for help instead. Philly answered right away and I explained to them what had happened. I requested that they call over to Wings on the phone or send someone out to check the runway. They told me that they would get it done and asked if there was any other way that they could assist me. I told them I was headed to Lancaster and that I appreciated their offer, but didn’t require any further assistance. I then switched over to Lancaster Tower and let them know that I was about 15-20 minutes out, but I would need to perform a couple of passes to have them check my gear. The tower cleared me for a low approach over runway 26.

I arrived at LNS at about 7:30. I performed my first low pass by the tower, not really expecting anything to appear out of place. I figured I had bent something or damaged the squat switch, but not much more. I climbed to pattern altitude and awaited the good word. Shortly after the fly-by, Tower reported that the left main gear didn’t appear to be down and locked. They suggested that I make another pass. The airport maintenance personnel chimed in, reporting the same. We had just started discussing whether cranking the gear a little by hand might help when Philly approach called the Lancaster tower on the phone.

Philly informed Lancaster that someone had inspected the runway at Wings and found the left main strut and wheel in the grass. I quickly concluded that cranking the gear down probably wouldn’t help!

This was found in the grass by the runway at Wings Field

To Be Continued…

(Read Part 2 Here)

Andrew Robinson is an airline pilot for Piedmont Airlines.  He is a former 135 Charter Pilot and flight instructor who lives with his wife and 2 daughters in Pennsylvania.  He instructs in Beechcraft Bonanzas.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *