A small plane on the runway of Howell-Livingston County Airport in Michigan waiting to take off confirmed for Pete Zeliff what his instruments and in-flight communications were telling him: it was safe to land.
As soon as his wheels touched down, he knew he wouldn't be able to stop. He immediately took the speed brakes up, put the flaps out and brought the power up to try and take off again, but before his wheels left the runway, his Cessna 525C Citation turned 90 degrees and he began sliding sideways. He managed to get the plane pointed straight again, but by then he was nearly out of runway.
"I thought, well, I'm just along for the ride now," Zeliff said in an interview with The Batavian this morning.
He said he remembers hitting a fence and a ditch but doesn't remember anything else until he found himself hanging upside down in his harness in the plane. He managed to get himself out and was walking around the plane when emergency responders arrived.
Federal Aviation Administration officials told him he walked to the ambulance himself, but he said the next thing he remembers is coming to in the ambulance and being told they were about 10 or 15 minutes from the hospital.
"I thought when I got to hospital I felt pretty good," Zeliff said. "I didn’t think I had any of the injuries I have. I thought I would be checked out, they would sign me off and send me home."
He suffered a fractured spine in two places, two broken ribs, and a cracked sternum. His doctors told him he's got about 10 weeks of recovery ahead of him, but then he should be fine with no lasting issues.
Zeliff, owner of p.w. minor, along with other local business interests, returned to Batavia two days ago and actually went into the office yesterday for a couple of hours, but said he will be on a light work schedule for the next few weeks.
As for the landing, he said his radar, "next rad" and the weather reports for the airport were rain with a ceiling of 6,000 feet and good visibility. He said he canceled his IRF (instrument flight rules) about five miles out from the airport.
"There's an airplane at the end of the runway waiting to take off," Zeliff said. "I assumed there was ice, OK, but I didn't think it would be bad because of that little plane."
He's been interviewed by an investigator with the FAA and was informed yesterday there would be no FAA action in response to the accident.
"They said I did everything right," Zeliff said. "They actually said they wish more pilots would fly like I do."
The plane is a total loss. Its wings were sheared off, catching on fire at that point, well away from the upside-down fuselage.
News video from the accident scene made the crash look pretty scary.
"To tell you the truth, I didn't have time to get scared," Zeliff said. "The whole episode probably took only 10 or 15 seconds. It's hard to tell right now, but I know I didn't have a lot of time to make decisions."
Previously: Local businessman Pete Zeliff OK after plane crash in Michigan