Pilots honored for landing burning plane on frozen reservoir

Pilots honored for landing burning plane on frozen reservoir

SCITUATE – Suffering burns on 25 percent of his body, co-pilot Lyle Hogg, pictured, helped the passengers off the burning 49-foot DeHavilland Twin Otter plane that he and Capt. Thomas Prinster force-landed on the icy surface of the Scituate reservoir on Feb. 21, 1982.

Now, 37 years later, Hogg and Prinster are being honored in the 2019 Rhode Island Aviation Hall of Fame on Nov. 23.

Prinster, a former naval aviator from North Kingstown, died in 2018 from complications resulting from his extensive burns and lung damage.

Hogg spoke with The Valley Breeze & Observer about that fateful day when he became a hero.

"There's a saying among us pilots," Hogg said. "It goes that you never know upon which flight your career will be judged, so make every flight your best."

That February day, only four years into his flying career and five months with Pilgrim Airlines, Hogg's abilities were judged.

The trip was supposed to be quick, a short flight from LaGuardia Airport in New York to Boston carrying 10 passengers.

"It was a typical February day in New England, breezy, icy, with overcast skies," Hogg said.

Midway, disaster struck, and the cabin began to fill with smoke.

"We knew something was wrong when we could smell smoke," Hogg said.

He said the commuter plane was flying at altitude, and the crew decided to check the windshield de-icer to see if it worked.

A malfunction in the de-icer caused pumping of isopropyl alcohol on the two pilots, and flames quickly engulfed the cockpit. According to Hogg, the smoke was so dense and dark that he could not see or speak with Prinster, who was feet away from him in the cockpit.

"There was no discussion. The cockpit was so filled with smoke. We couldn't see each other to talk to each other," Hogg said.

The pilots stretched their heads out of the side cockpit windows to breathe and catch a glimpse of their surroundings. There was no way the plane would make it to the Westerly State Airport, Hogg said. The situation had simply gotten too bad too quickly, he said.

"Anytime there is fire on an airplane, you've got to get it on the ground as soon as possible," he said.

The cockpit was not sectioned off, and the plane's cabin quickly began to fill with smoke. He said it was no secret that this was a dire situation.

Despite their pants burning off their legs, Hogg said he kept his hands on the yoke and followed Prinster's lead. He said he felt movement in the controls and looked to the ground below.

"I saw trees, and then I saw the reservoir," Hogg said.

He said he knew what Prinster was thinking and prepared to land.

"We put it down, and we came in hard, but all but one survived," Hogg said.

One passenger, Loretta Stanczak, died of asphyxiation. Prinster and Hogg escorted the remaining nine passengers off the plane and the reservoir. Hogg said the ice cracked where the plane landed but supported the craft's weight where it stopped.

Rescue crews waited at the shoreline to begin treating the survivors. Hogg said inflammation from the burns caused his eyes to swell shut, and he was led off the ice by a passenger.

At that point, he had burns over 25 percent of his body. Prinster's body was 75 percent covered in burns. A long road to recovery lay ahead requiring numerous surgeries and skin grafts lasting more than a year.

Once he recovered, Hogg returned to flying commercial planes. Now at age 65, the Maryland resident said he can no longer fly commercial. After flying for US Airways for 35 years, he is the president of Piedmont Airlines.

While recovering from his various surgeries, Hogg said he often thought about flying and dreamed of doing it again.

"I loved it so much. I was really just getting started at that point," he said.

A few good things came from the forced landing that day, Hogg said. He and Prinster continued to fly and were labeled heroes locally and nationally. The pair met former President Ronald Reagan and shared their story with various media outlets.

Scituate erected a stone monument at the intersection of Routes 4 and 102, describing the miraculous landing that occurred that day and thanking the pilots and rescue crews.

Hogg said he, his wife Gretchen and their children visited the monument a few years back, but have not returned since.

The forced landing was investigated and found the de-icing system to be faulty. The investigation led to a change in design to an electric heating element to defrost the windshield.

Hogg said in his almost 40 years of flying, he never experienced anything similar to what happened that day in February.

A few years from retirement, Hogg said he misses the beauty of flying planes.

"I miss the challenge of flying in poor weather and I miss the beauty of flying on a good weather day," he said.

Once he retires, Hogg said he plans on staying in one place since he's already traveled so much. When people call him a hero, Hogg disagrees. He said he was just doing his job.

"I don't think about it that way. I think about it as doing the job I was trained to do," he said.

The 17th annual Rhode Island Aviation Hall of Fame dinner will be held this Saturday, Nov. 23, at the Scottish Rite Masonic Center of Cranston. Tickets are $60 and are available at www.riahof.org or by calling 401-398-1000.