COVINGTON - A small aircraft made an emergency parachute landing in a residential area off of Oxford Road on Saturday after the pilot experienced what he described as a "structural failure" involving the wings.
According to Alan Duval, a flight instructor and contract pilot who was at the scene Saturday, the pilot was preparing to land an ultralight aircraft at the Covington Municipal Airport when he heard a loud noise.
"After he heard the noise, he noticed he didn't have control of the aircraft, so he elected to engage the ballistic parachute, which is a safety device," Duval said.
Duval said the 250-pound aircraft was approximately 1,000 feet from the runway and about 500 feet off the ground when the pilot engaged the parachute.
According to the pilot, Lamar Furr of Decatur, the parachute carried him and the ultralight to the west with the wind, dropping the aircraft on its nose in a front yard on Oxford Way.
Furr said he built the ultralight himself using a set of plans, and he had been piloting the vehicle for about a year. "Nothing like this has ever happened before," he said.
While he said the event had not scared him off of flying, he said he was looking forward to getting the ultralight back to his hangar at the Covington Airport to go over it with a fine-toothed comb and find out what went wrong.
The Newton County Sheriff's Office, Newton County Fire Services and the Oxford Police Department responded to the scene and secured the area. Lt. Mark Mitchell said the pilot appeared to have received only minor injuries and was treated on site by emergency medical technicians. No other injuries or property damage were reported.
Mitchell said Saturday afternoon the matter would be turned over to the Federal Aviation Administration to investigate the incident.
By 3 p.m., responders were working to find the best way to get the parachute out of the power lines in front of the Oxford Way home. Oxford Police Chief Clark Miller said the power company would try to cut the chute loose and let its weight bring it to the ground, but if that did not work, they might have to cut the power before trying anything else.
Kathleen Bergen, spokeswoman with the FAA, said the agency will determine whether the aircraft is classified as an ultralight, which are generally not considered aircraft by FAA standards.
According to the FAA, an ultralight aircraft is an aeronautical vehicle operated for sport or recreational purposes that does not require FAA registration, an airworthiness certificate or pilot certification. They are primarily single-occupant vehicles, although some two-place vehicles are authorized for training purposes, and contain up to 5 gallons of fuel.
"We will confirm the number on board, determine if it is an ultralight and whether there were any injuries," Bergen said. "If it was an ultralight and there was only one person on board, that's the end of our investigation."
- Managing editor Colin M. Stewart contributed to this article