Stories From SNA: OC Flight Instructor Recounts Emergency Landing at John Wayne

Stories From SNA: OC Flight Instructor Recounts Emergency Landing at John Wayne



It was a beautiful sunny day on October 25th when Pacific Flight Aviation flight instructor Whitney Boes was preparing for one of her regular morning flights. The winds were calm and the airport was quiet. A good day to be in the air.

After doing all the typical checks, she hopped into the cockpit, cleared for takeoff, and within a few minutes, the aircraft roared down the runway and lifted off the ground. However, within seconds after liftoff, things took a dramatic turn.

At just 300 feet, it was clear it wasn’t generating enough power to sustain flight and the aircraft sounded like it was being starved of fuel. The engine began sputtering. The RPMs were plummeting and Whitney’s pulse was racing. This wasn’t just a flight anymore. This was an emergency.

That’s when Whitney had to make a split-second decision. Would she land on the 73 freeway that was right below her? Or bank and try to make it back to John Wayne? She chose the latter. During a quick exchange with ATC, she was notified that the runway was clear and an incoming Southwest flight was redirected to maintain clearance.

After a few tense moments that seemed to last a lifetime, Whitney managed to keep the plane in flight long enough to land back on the runway. It was a harsh lesson in the importance of training and how every second matters in case of an emergency.

Whitney has since spoken to several senior pilots who all tell her the same thing; at least once in every pilot’s life, a situation will come up where your life will be in danger. They say no decision is the right decision. You follow your training and do what you have to do to land safely, but don’t second guess yourself.

Although Whitney is quick to credit her training for her quick thinking, she also gives credit to her grandmother who passed away just three days prior to the incident. “I know that my grandmother was with me that day, watching over me,” said Whitney. “She was the ultimate co-pilot and she helped guide me back to that airport safely.”

After taking the rest of the day off, Whitney was back in the air the very next day. “Any profession comes with its risks,” she added. “It all comes down to training and safety. As a flight instructor, these are things I preach every day. This experience has definitely made me appreciate that even more.”