Pilot and passenger recall moment plane engine cuts out over Sidmouth

PUBLISHED: 07:00 11 May 2018 | UPDATED: 15:01 11 May 2018

Pilot Zak and passenger Trudi.

Pilot Zak and passenger Trudi.


The pilot and passenger of an aircraft forced to make an emergency landing on Jacob’s Ladder beach have recalled the moment its engine cut out while flying over Sidmouth.

Zac Rockey and Trudi Spiller in the plane on Saturday before things started going down hill. Zac Rockey and Trudi Spiller in the plane on Saturday before things started going down hill.

Zac Rockey and Trudi Spiller were enjoying views of the Jurassic Coast from 12,000ft on Saturday when they noticed there was a serious problem.

Trudi has praised pilot Zac, 45, for coolly landing the 1930s plane on the shingle - carefully avoiding beachgoers.

Speaking exclusively to the Herald this week, Trudi said: “I was obviously very frightened and burst into tears later when everyone had gone.”

Zac, a pilot of 15 years, from Exeter, said: “No-one was hurt, injured or killed and nothing was damaged - which is amazing. Although it was very difficult, especially getting the plane off the beach.

The plane being pushed off the beach. The plane being pushed off the beach.

“I just went into autopilot mode. I came back to life afterwards when I had got out and checked everything was OK.”

The pair had spent the afternoon taking the aircraft to Bodmin Airfield for an event to mark the 100th anniversary of the end of World War One.

Mum-of-four Trudi said: “Everything was going smoothly as we went over Budleigh Salterton.

“Zac told me afterwards that he picked up a different sound coming from the engine.

The plane after its wings had been removed. The plane after its wings had been removed.

“He was already looking around for a potential landing space. We came around the cliff near Jacob’s Ladder and I heard two clatters – I thought it was normal and then there was total engine failure and the plane instantly started to glide.

“Zac already had his head out, ready to land.

“I just sat forward and tried to keep myself out the way and thought, ‘Oh my, we are actually going to have to land this here’.

“He is a very experienced pilot and very skilled. I had complete faith in him that he would land it safely, so I didn’t scream or anything.”

The plane being taken apart on the beach. The plane being taken apart on the beach.

Trudi said there were around five people on the beach and Zac jumped out of the plane immediately after landing to ensure no-one was hurt.

“When we first landed I just sat there and took it all in – my legs were like jelly for at least an hour afterwards and I’m still a little shaken now,” said Trudi.

Zac said he first noticed that there were problems at around 12,000ft and started looking for somewhere to safely land the Morane Savlnier M5 315 aircraft, which has an estimated value of £90,000.

He said yesterday: “I’m still looking forward to my next flight, which will be on Sunday - I’ll be helping someone else.

The plane before take off. The plane before take off.

“I just want to get the plane up and running again. I’m just a mechanic - people let me fly their planes and all I have to do is buy the petrol.

“It is something nice for me to be able to do, because I couldn’t afford my own. I have spoken to the [plane’s] owner - he is elated that I got it down safely.

“The owner is a pilot himself - he used to do a lot of crop dusting in America, which is quite dangerous.”

Trudi said she and Zac did not want to leave the plane, so decided to sleep underneath the wing on Saturday night.

The plane on Jacob's Ladder Beach. The plane on Jacob's Ladder Beach.

It was later dismantled by engineers, removed from the beach, and taken to Branscombe Airfield. Beer Coastguard said Zac showed ‘great skill’ with the landing.

Trudi issued heartfelt thanks to the coastguard, colleagues and friends, the engineers, everyone that offered them food and drink, and a tall gentleman that helped her out of the plane. She also thanked the lady who rang the police and sat her down to recover from the shock after the landing.

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