Electrical problems force pilot to make emergency landing


A Harford Cessna pilot had to make an emergency landing Sunday evening when electrical problems forced him down without instruments or runway lights at Forest Hill Industrial Airpark, sheriff's deputies said. No one was injured.

William Tooke Harris, 46, of the 2800 block of College View Drive in Churchville was flying a Baltimore man from Dubois, Pa., near Pittsburgh to Martin State Airport in Middle River.

Mr. Harris, a professor of economics at the University of Delaware and a part-time flight instructor, said he knew about a thunderstorm watch until 8 p.m. in the Baltimore area. He said he timed his return trip to miss the foul weather.

"The flight was uneventful until we got to Harrisburg and a problem with the electrical system became apparent," he said yesterday.

Mr. Harris said his passenger, Robert James Whittmann of the 5200 block of Anthony Ave. in Baltimore, held a flashlight for him in the cockpit as he concentrated on flying, navigating and trying to get the plane's wheels down and locked.

Without electricity, Mr. Harris said he could not use the plane's radio to contact the control tower at Martin State Airport.

"Fortunately, I always carry a portable, battery-powered radio as a backup," he said. "The tower could not hear me, but I could hear them."

Mr. Harris said he knew that air traffic controllers at Martin could see him on their radar screen and knew that he was in trouble, because they advised him to avoid severe weather there and try to land at the Forest Hill location.

"The runway lights were off [at Forest Hill], but I could see it without any difficulty," Mr. Harris said.

He landed the plane about 8:30 p.m. He said the secret to making such a landing is to come in slow and "hope you don't hit anything."

Bob Martin, owner of the airpark, said Mr. Harris made an excellent landing, because there was minimal damage to the aircraft.

Sheriff's deputies conducted an initial investigation and passed on their findings to the Federal Aviation Administration yesterday. The FAA investigation has not been completed, but Mr. Harris said he believed a malfunctioning alternator caused the electrical problems.

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