Wheels-up landing that gripped the nation the ‘most intense emergency’ of air traffic controller’s career

A Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) traffic controller who helped guide a light plane pilot to an emergency wheels-up landing this week has told of the flight’s tense final moments when radio contact was lost.

Flight Lieutenant Bree Woollett talked pilot Peter Schott through the drama over Newcastle when the landing gear on his Beechcraft Super King Air failed after take-off on Monday morning, setting off an emergency much of the country watched unfold online and on television.

While the aircraft, which contained two passengers, circled and burned fuel for almost four hours, Mr Schott was in contact with air traffic controllers at Williamtown RAAF base, including Flight Lieutenant Woollett.

A smiling, bespectacled woman in an RAAF uniform stands in an air traffic control tower.

Bree Woollett was one of four air traffic controllers who helped guide a pilot through the landing.(ABC Newcastle: Keely Johnson)

“In my career I have seen airborne emergencies of varying levels of seriousness, but Monday, for sure, was the most intense emergency I’ve been a part of,” she said.

Mr Schott and his two passengers walked away unhurt when the plane made the “textbook” wheels-up emergency landing at Newcastle Airport, but not before a heart-stopping few moments in the airport tower.


‘Eerie’ seconds

Flight Lieutenant Woollett, said communication was lost with the pilot when he had to cut the engines before landing.

“It was a little bit eerie in the tower, I would say, for the 10 or so seconds immediately prior to his actually touching down or hoping for the best and preparing for the worst,” she said.

“But we were just so lucky — he did such a good job.”

A digital image of a plane being tracked above Newcastle, showing that it has been continuously circling.

The plane circled Newcastle airport for hours to burn off fuel.(Flight Radar)

Flight Lieutenant Woollett, a RAAF air traffic controller since 2011, said she and the team trained for such emergencies as, watching video of the landing, she explained to the ABC what was happening in the tower at the time.

“I’m just reflecting on how we all felt in the tower and I think absolute apprehension followed by huge, huge waves of relief,” she said.

“He did so well.”

Flight Lieutenant Woollett said burning off fuel bought the pilot and flight controllers precious time.

“Because he had just taken off out of Williamtown, he had a lot of fuel on board,” she said.

“So burning down that fuel prior to landing was something that needed to happen, and that bought us hours.

“So yeah, that was something we had in our favour.”

A plane lands without its undercarriage down on a runway.

The “textbook” emergency landing was watched by Australians throughout the country.(ABC Newcastle: Ross McLoughlin)

Fuel to burn

Mr Schott has commended the air traffic control team.

He told the ABC his training kicked in when he knew the plane’s wheels were jammed and that his heart rate never rose above 80 beats per minute during the ordeal, according to his Apple watch.

“I’m happy, pretty happy with the result,” Mr Schott said.

“I’ve had time to to think through the scenario and and look at everything and I really wouldn’t have done anything differently.”

Mr Schott said burning off fuel to land safely was a priority.

“I had 3,100 pounds on board and I had a figure in my brain I wanted to land with, you know, around about five to six hundred pounds of fuel and that was what I was concentrating on the whole time,” he said.

People standing next to their cars.

Crowds gathered to watch the aircraft land at Newcastle Airport after its landing gear failed.(ABC News: Jesmine Cheong)

Mr Schott said it was heartening to watch people cheering in the news reports about the landing.

“I was quite surprised when I watched some of those TV shows and they had people cheering in the background — it’s kind of nice,” he said.

“I have been involved in motorsport sometimes and I think people, they go there waiting for the crash.

“It’s kind of nice to have people there cheering for the great results.

“That was very nice.”

Mr Schott said he has had student pilots practice simulated wheels-up landings at Williamtown and so he was well prepared.

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