Tyler Bartlett and his copilot were just 3 miles away from the Bethel airport on Sunday afternoon when they felt the Cessna 172 begin to sputter.
He was coming from McGrath in a private plane to accrue hours for his commercial license, and he estimated the flight would take about two hours. Bartlett loaded up with three and-a-half hours worth of fuel for the flight. But as he approached Bethel, he was running on empty.
“Lost a lot of the power. Had a little bit, but that wasn’t really helping keep us up, so we’re slowly going down,” Bartlett said.
He quickly realized he wasn’t going to make it to the airport and told air traffic control that he had to make an emergency landing.
“First thing to do, find a place to land,” he said.
At first he aimed for the road leading out to the dump, but a quick burst of power gave him hope he might be able to make it to the runway after all. A few seconds later it became clear he didn’t have enough, he said, and he chose to land on Ridgecrest Drive instead.
“I was able to avoid traffic, saw a car pass and it was clear ahead, so I was like alright, put it between these power lines,” Bartlett said. “Touched down basically right in front of Fili’s.”
Fili’s is a local restaurant. Bartlett managed to maneuver the plane past any power lines on the way down, and the slow Sunday traffic meant that there were few cars on the road.
Bartlett, who is 20 years old, grew up in Anchorage and has been living in Bethel for about a year and a half. His dad is also a bush pilot, and his mother is the office manager for Fox Air, a local airline charter service. Bartlett isn’t employed by the company. He got his private license in spring 2020 and said he’s never had to make an emergency landing before. Still, Bartlett said, he didn’t panic.
“Just a bit of a shock to lose power, but I knew I had the road to land on,” Bartlett said.
His mother, Jonna Bartlett, said she trusts her son’s abilities and is glad he’s safe.
“It was definitely one of those things moms don’t want to hear about, but at least he’s safe,” she said. “Missed the signs, missed any cars, just like a crazy, crazy day.”
Police arrived to help manage traffic. Bartlett and his father towed the plane to the airport with a motorcade of police and state vehicles. No tickets or citations were issued for the emergency landing.