PHOTOS: Lucky escape for Bideford couple in US crash landing
A LIGHT aircraft flight across the Arizona desert suddenly turned into a life threatening situation for a Bideford couple when the aircraft's engine failed and they started plummeting to the ground.
Ian and Karen Luggar set off for their flight while on a three-month trip to America.
The couple, who run a catering trailer on Northam Burrows during the summer months, have been visiting America for the past 13 years but this was the first time they had taken a light aircraft trip.
They were taken by their friend Michael Owen, a former district attorney in Arizona who has a pilot's licence, on his privately owned, single engined Cessna 172. They took off on February 2 at 9am from Benson and began on a circular route with a stop-off at a casino in Coolidge before heading over the Aravaipa Canyon.
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It was while they were flying over the canyon at 6,500ft that the engine first failed. The pilot managed to restart the engine but it then cut out again.
Ian, 55, said: "You could tell something was wrong when you could see the propeller, which is at the front of the plane. Michael was then trying to control the plane, which had essentially turned into a glider."
By this time they were over the Coronado National Forest and Michael had spotted two circular fields for a crash landing. Ian said the pilot chose the field without a central steel irrigation system, which they could have hit while landing.
He said: "We glided into the field but as we touched down one of the wheels caught and it flipped us over, so the plane was upside down.
"When we came to a stop we were all just silent. I was in the back and I checked the other two were ok. We were all fine, I think we were all in shock. We then had to try and get out. We all had to help each other get released from the straps.
"Once we were outside we could see there was a building up on the hillside so we tried making for that but then the sons of a nearby farmer had caught up with us.
"I think they were surprised to see us alive. They took us back to the ranch and the nearest sheriff was called. He took about two hours to arrive and took all our details."
Ian said they could have had a day's walk to get help as there was no mobile phone signal where they crash landed.