April 15, 2000, I was in the circuit of Toronto City Centre in a Cessna 172 on a night flight, doing touch and go's...in fact this was the last night flight I would have to take before receiving my night rating. 8 circuits, and that was it! The first approach and landing, a tad bumpy on the landing, a rough approach. The second, much better, but a longer flare. The wheels hit the ground rather softly and my hands then moved around the cockpit: flaps up, carb heat cold, full throttle. A few seconds later, I was again at flying speed.
I pulled the nose up and the plane felt like it had jarred to the left just as the wheels left the ground. I assumed I had taken off into a gust and as usual, I lowed the nose a bit, gained speed in ground effect, and pulled the nose up again. The climbout began, but a few seconds later it felt as if the throttle had been reduced to idle; the engine power just died on me. Stunned, and frightened, I went a bit into shock until the stall warning horn jolted me out of it. I lowered the nose and, realizing that there wasn't enough runway to land on, turned a few degrees right, towards the shore. (A note, YTZ
's lighted runway ends at either end by a small beach and then the lake. By turning towards the shore, I set myself up to ditch within swimming distance of land, but at the same time breaking the cardinal rule of landing straight ahead to make the aircraft easier to find for the rescuers. At the time though, it seemed the more sensible thing to do.)
I continued to mess around with the engine controls, trying to get power back, but to no avail. I broadcast a hurried mayday and seconds later I leveled the plane off just above the lake surface, and it promptly stalled, and the aircraft plowed into the lake nosewheel-first. The jolt was tremendous, flinging my glasses from my face, but thankfully the safety harness kept me from getting hurt. The plane settled right-side-up in the water, and I sat there, stunned, for a moment. Throwing my headset off and unbuckling the harnesses, I opened the window, and after hearing the emergency sirens blaring at the airport, I climbed out the window into the water.
Standing on the strut, with my hands hanging onto the flap, I looked around. I realized that I was still too far from shore to swim, and so I saw a lighted harbour buoy that I decided to swim to when the plane began to sink...which it began to do a minute or two later.
Anyway it all ended well...after swimming to the buoy, I was rescued by the harbour police after screaming my lungs out for help. Lucky they found me...it was a dark night, and since I was floating on my back, the only part the rescue boats could have seen was my face.
After a night in the hospital recovering from hypothermia, I got to go home, and after a week of fighting off media attention, I finally had the chance to go up and finish up my night rating. That was a tense flight....but I did it. 5 circuits, and finally, it was done!
Anyway no one ever knew why the engine died on me. The NTSB pulled it out and saw nothing out of the ordinary...either in the controls or the engine. I guess it was just a fluke, as reassuring as that was for me!