Not many people get invited to take a private tour of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, but not many pilots make unexpected landings there, either.
Aerial photographer Cathy Lewan will soon have done both. On February 14, Lewan became the only pilot of a small plane to make an emergency landing at what is known as the world’s busiest airport. Lewan landed the plane unharmed. On Monday, airport officials invited Lewan and her family back to the airport for a private tour scheduled on February 29th.
On Valentines Day, Cathy Lewan was finishing her monthly aerial photographs when the throttle in her four-seater Cessna 172 plane broke. When the throttle disengaged, Lewan was unable to adjust plane’s speed. She quickly changed the plane transpon
der to 7700. This number declares an emergency and alerts the FAA so they can notify every other plane in the air. The closest airport was Hartsfield-Jackson.
The control tower immediately began deciding whether or not to re-route Lewan to another airport, but knew there was a risk that she might not make it. Lewan says the FAA considered every danger.
“They were talking to me, calming me, and reassuring me,” Lewan says. “But we also had to consider the plane coming in too fast, my state of mind, the spacing in-air from other planes, and of course the plane stalling.”
On top of maintaining the plane speed and altitude without a throttle, Lewan says she also had radio problems. However, she could see two fire departments and multiple ambulances and police preparing on the ground for the landing.
“It was very scary to see all the emergency lights on the ground,” Lewan says. “It’s a natural human reaction to worry and fear when we see emergency lights. It was even worse looking at them below, and the amount of them.”
After 50 minutes of circling, Cathy Lewan finally landed. She strategically landed on runway 10, the southern most runway at the Hartsfield Airport. Her plane was then towed across five runways. Lewan said the first thing the emergency team told her was, “You landed with the big boys,” and gave her a laminated map of the airport.
Many people have congratulated Lewan on her successful landing. She says that, “God is the pilot and I am the co-pilot.” Lewan also says she she couldn’t have done it without the FAA’s help and she will be writing a letter to the Atlanta mayor, Georgia governor, and the President of the United States.
Hartsfield-Jackson is the busiest passenger and operations airport in the world. It averages more than 250,000 passengers a day and Atlanta is within a two-hour flight of 80 pecent of the United States population.