Cessna 310 Pilot Taking Off at Chicago Executive Airport: Heard a Pop, Discovered His Nose Gear Was Wobbling in Skies Over Wheeling

Cessna 310 failed nose gear landing after several flyovers at Chicago Executive Airport.

The call for help from Prospect Heights and Wheeling firefighter/paramedics was received at 12:15 p.m. Wednesday, December 5, 2018. However, not until pilot Vartan Seferian and passenger Howard Norber (also a pilot) made sure they really had an aircraft emergency. Both men checked circuit breakers and procedures to raise and lower the landing gear for the Cessna 310 to see if it would reset normally. No luck. An aircraft emergency was declared, and Chicago Executive Airport was closed to all other aircraft except for Seferian’s aircraft, and NBC Chicago’s helicopter crew, which got permission to take off and clear the immediate area to cover the aircraft in trouble.

Seferian and Norber gathered their thoughts and emotions about family and then concentrated on getting the twin-prop, six-passenger aircraft and the only two on board to the ground safely. Using a standard mirror equipped on the aircraft, Seferian could see the nose gear malfunction, but he couldn’t see the other two landing gear located under the wings. He ask if he could fly by the Chicago Executive Airport tower so that air traffic controllers. Those landing gear appeared to be lowered normally. In order to land with minimum risk of fire for the emergency landing without a functioning landing gear, the two-man crew had to burn off about 50 gallons of fuel and double-check safety procedures for emergency landings. On the ground, firefighters were studying online information about the Cessna 310 for any information that would be helpful if extrication was required after a potential crash, or if a fire involved the aircraft and it’s fuel tank, engines or fuel lines.

Later, Vartan Seferian, age 53 of Long Grove, would described the effort to get the aircraft safely to ground a ‘One billion percent team effort’ involving his pilot/passenger Norber, the air traffic controllers, and a retired Boeing 747 captain with Cessna 310 experience that Chicago Executive Airport called in to help over the phone. Norber, a Chicago resident, emphasized the lesson learned is the importance of studying emergency procedures so that your prepared.

Prospect Heights Firefighters meeting aircraft after Emergency Landing at Chicago Executive Airport (SOURCE: Prospect Heights Fire Protection District).

Firefighters received a report that there was an aircraft with trouble with a landing gear on nose of plane. Prospect Heights Fire Protection District Fire Chief explained that for this type of emergency, a Stand By assignment is generated. The firefighting vehicles and personnel report to pre-assigned locations at the airport and wait for further information from the Air Traffic Control Tower. Firefighters were aware that the aircraft was a Cessna 310 twin prop with two persons onboard, pilot and passenger, and that the aircraft had to remain in flight for more than one hour to use up fuel. At one point, about 12:41 p.m., the aircraft made a pass and with a banking left turn over Arlington Heights Road and Euclid Avenue, heading south and then east.

Initial response from firefighters involved two specialized Aircraft Rescue and Fire Fighting (ARFF) vehicles — one from Prospect Heights and one from Wheeling. Also included in the response were two battalion chiefs — one from Prospect Heights and one from Wheeling.

Once it was determined than in fact there were two persons on board and that the landing would be made without confidence in the landing gear one additional ambulance and one tanker (water carrier) were dispatched. Both Prospect Heights and Wheeling fire chiefs and deputy chiefs also responded.

Due to the anticipated length of the incident off-duty Prospect Heights and Wheeling firefighters were paged to come in and fill in their respective fire stations until the on-duty personnel cleared the airport.

The Cessna 310 landed on Runway 12/30 and came to a full stop on the runway with the nose of the aircraft unsupported about 12:58 p.m. The aircraft approached low from the southeast of the airport, and Seferian kept the nose up as long as possible as the aircraft rolled on two wheels along the runway.

Interview with pilot and passenger after emergency landing of Cessna 310; “I was feeling physically good. But mentally, I was thinking about my family, my wife my kids and the reality that I have to fly and land this airplane,” ,” said Vartan Seferian.

Seferian and Norber immediately jumped from the aircraft after it stopped, and ran southeast to a safe distance from the plane. They gave each other a high five and a hug. Neither the pilot or passenger were transported to a hospital for care. Seferian and Norber were accommodated with excellent hospitality at the Signature Flight Support facility at Chicago Executive Airport.

Interview with Vartan Seferian, pilot of Cessna 310 after emergency landing at Chicago Executive Airport, explains the somber realization at 2,000 feet after takeoff that his nose gear was not functioning.

Chicago Executive Airport is jointly owned by the City of Prospect Heights and the Village of Wheeling. Both fire departments operate a joint response with unified command for any aircraft incident. Unlike homes or businesses, there are no streets that easily define the municipal boundaries. Many times an aircraft incident may begin in one municipality and travel into the other. For more than 20 years this joint response has worked well and produced positive results, according to Prospect Heights FPD Fire Chief Drew Smith.

NTSB officials are scheduled to arrive Thursday to inspect the aircraft and determine a cause of the nose gear failure.


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