A lucky pilot has told how he cheated death after a freak accident saw his propeller fall off his plane mid-flight – at 2,300ft.
Cool-headed Neil Rankin, 51, performed an incredible emergency landing in his tiny Tipsy Nipper when the bolts attaching his propeller mysteriously snapped.
Experienced pilot Neil was flying his one-seater plane over a reservoir in Essex when he heard a ”thump and a wobble”.
Unbelievably, the entire propeller had come off mid-flight and Neil made a desperate mayday call as his plane began to plunge to earth.
But discovering his radio was broken Neil frantically looked for a suitable landing spot knowing that uneven ground would tip his tiny plane and kill him.
The next terrifying moments were ”burnt into his soul” but Neil kept his cool, dodged power lines and hedges to glide his aircraft to earth and landed without a scratch.
Father-of-two Neil said: ”I was on my way back home when I felt a thump and a wobble.
”I assumed I had hit a bird and checked the propeller for damage but it had disappeared.
”That moment I realised the propeller had gone – it’s burnt into my soul, if I think about it too long I still get the shakes.
”I made a mayday call but realised no-one could hear me and so with no chance of a rescue I looked for a landing spot.
”You don’t want to land in a ploughed field as the small wheels would certainly dig in and turn the plane over.
”I spotted a green field and headed towards it, I thought if I can just get over the power lines and a hedge before I loose too much height I would survive.
”The wave of relief as I touched down was overpowering.”
Neil was cruising at 2,300ft (700m) above Hanningfield Reservoir, Billericay, Essex, when the propeller came off and dislodged the radio.
He landed the single-engine plane on green grass at 4.10pm on February 3, near Flemings Farm, South Hanningfield, Chelmsford, Essex.
Fire engines, ambulances, police cars and even an RAF helicopter rushed to the scene, on the assumption that a plane crash was imminent.
But on arrival they found Neil with farmer Gloria Jessop, 61, who had made him a cup of tea heaped with three sugars to try and calm him down.
The experienced pilot, who started flying gliders when he was 16-years-old, said he is baffled how the specialised bolts holding the propeller on snapped off simultaneously.
He added: ”When you’re flying you worry about certain things, if an engine fails, if a bird hits you, but you don’t expect the propeller to fall off.
”It’s very unlikely. There are six specialised bolts to hold it on that are wire locked and it is safety checked regularly.
”No-one yet knows how it could have happened.”
Neil has had a third share in the Tipsy Nipper for ten years which he keeps at Stapleford Flight Centre, Essex.
He owns a maintenance business and lives in Bishop’s Stortford, Herts., with his wife, Rosemary, and sons; Alex, 14, and Angus, 11.
The propeller was found by the police a mile and a half from the landing site. The Air Accident Investigation Branch is now looking into the matter.