Embry-Riddle students assist local pilot, rescue crews through mid-air emergency

PUTNAM COUNTY, Fla. — Two Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University Flight students are being recognized for the actions they took when they heard another pilot in distress.


According to the university, Aeronautical Science Junior Connor Cvetan and senior Flight Instructor Chris Shields were flying near Palatka last week when they heard an emergency call over their radio about another nearby pilot experiencing engine failure at just under 1,000 feet.

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The two immediately decided to head towards the direction of the call to see what they could do.

“I just kept calm and did what needed to be done to get this individual the help he needed,” Shields recalled.

Shields says he first tried contacting the 81-year-old retired airline captain to help direct him towards a field for an emergency landing.

According to ERAU, once that failed, he tried to land on a road, but it was too late.

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According to the Putnam County Sheriff’s Office, the single engine plane landed in water on the approach to the Palatka Airport.

“When I saw the plane touch down into the water, my heart sank,” Cvetan said. “Our first thought was to try to contact the pilot…No luck. That’s when we determined that calling Jacksonville was the best option.”

According to ERAU, Cvetan and Shields relayed the exact coordinates of the crash to emergency responders and continued circling over the area, providing updates and additional information for rescuers.

According to the Sheriff’s Office, a Navy Helicopter that was in the area responded to the scene and was able to load the pilot onto a rescue basket and take him back to the airport without any serious injuries.

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Embry-Riddle’s Aviation Safety Department will soon award Shields and Cvetan for their actions with its monthly Aviation Safety Award.

“The reason this incident had a happy ending is because of Chris and Connor,” ERAU Eagles Flight Team Coach and Flight Training Manager Rich Garner said. “No one else responded, and the crashed pilot might not have had that easy of a rescue had they not been in the right location and done the right thing.”

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