▶️ ‘You stay calm’: Pilot’s split-second decision to land on Powell Butte Hwy

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It was one of the most unusual takeoffs — and landings — that anyone who flies in and out of Bend Municipal Airport will ever experience.

Pilot Michael Lemaire took off in his tiny light sport aircraft only to land moments later, a few hundred yards away on the Powell Butte Highway.

“Everything was fine, everything was totally normal,” Lemaire said as he was checking the conditions ahead of his Sunday morning flight. “There was very few traffic.. Fourth of July weekend so everybody’s gone somewhere else.”

But just a few seconds and a few hundred feet into the air, suddenly everything was not fine.

“So I lost power and the engine died,” Lemaire said. “Completely.”

He didn’t have enough altitude to turn back to the runway, so he did what pilots do in emergencies.

“When you are so close to the ground, you don’t want to stall. So nose down, landing speed and just look for a spot to land. That’s all you can do.”

RELATED: Small plane forced to land near Powell Butte Hwy due to faulty engine

Lemaire said there wasn’t time to get excited.

“You stay calm because you have a few seconds.”

The rugged Bureau of Land Management land below him didn’t look good.

“You don’t want to do that because there are big rocks and stumps and you’re probably flip around so and there were practically no cars on the highway,” said Lemaire. “It was an obvious choice, you know.

It’s a nice, flat, two-lane surface — but it’s not a runway.

“Normally, runways are straight and highways have a turns once in a while, so I had to do a turn just on the landing.”

So he turned and touched down with no damage to the plane. He got out and pushed it off the road.

RELATED: Road work by the numbers: Summer projects take massive manpower

Was it skill or luck?

“Oh, luck. Absolutely. The skill was normal, no exceptional skill. Normal skill for a pilot. Luck that the highway was free.”

There’s that old saying that the definition of a good landing is one you can walk away from.

Plane lands Powell Butte Highway, July 3, 2022
Michael Lemaire’s light sport aircraft landed on Powell Butte Highway after the engine cut out shortly after takeoff from Bend Municipal Airport, July 3, 2022.

The definition of a perfect landing?

“It’s a landing where the plane is still useable after so this was a perfect landing,” said Lemaire.

Lemaire still doesn’t know what went wrong, but he says that when he towed the plane back to the hangar, he put the key in the engine. Of course, it fired right up.

He also said somebody out there who was driving on Powell Butte Highway and who stopped to help shot video of the landing. Lemaire said he’d like to see it.

So would we. If that’s you, contact us at info@centraloregondaily.com.

Watch our story below from last summer where we look at the massive manpower and more required for projects on the Powell Butte Highway and other roads in Central Oregon.

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