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West of Missoula

Plane makes emergency landing in field west of Missoula

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A single-engine airplane was forced to make an emergency landing in a field west of Missoula on Friday. Both occupants walked away unscathed.

Pilot Roy "Skip" Owings and his wife Judy, both local residents, had just left the Missoula Airport in the Cessna and were about 10 miles north of Evaro when Roy noticed a little vibration in the engine and saw that he had lost all his oil pressure.

"When he uttered the word Mayday to the control tower, that put more than an alert in my thinking and I commenced to pray ardently," Judy Owings said. "Probably my first thought was he’s an amazing pilot and so thorough in all his pre-flight (inspections). I knew that if something was awry, it was not his negligence at all."

Roy decided the plane wasn't going to make it back to the airport, so he picked a field near the Wye that didn't have any trees. Other than the engine damage, the plane was fine.

"It was no rougher than a rocky landing strip in Idaho," Owings said. "I'm thankful I have an incredibly calm wife and I’m very thankful that God was watching out for us.''

He said he has "been very diligent about rehearsing this kind of stuff in my mind for years and years and years. It’s almost like clockwork." And on Friday, it paid off.

Judy said that when she realized that they were going to have to land in a field, she was confident in her husband’s ability.

“I knew he could do it,” she said. “He’s very calm. He was concerned about bushes or something and he asked me if I was OK. I knew that whatever happened it would be OK.”

She said the landing was very bumpy.

“When we were first in touch with the control tower, he thought probably we could make it in and they cleared us to land,” Judy recalled. “But the plane was dropping sooner than we expected. And they suggested Highway 93 and there was way too much traffic.''

Her husband had been scouting for options. "He said, 'There’s a field we could land in, there’s another one.’ And then he said, 'This is the one,’ and so he picked it.”

Owings first got his pilot’s license in Seattle in 1974 and has more than 700 hours of flying experience. They owned an equipment company in Missoula, but Owings now works for Halliburton.

They were headed to Kalispell to visit his mother. Owings said he flew the plane from Utah the day before for work, and everything was fine.

Firefighters from the Frenchtown Rural Fire Department were on the scene shortly after the landing at about 11:30 a.m., and the Missoula County Sheriff’s Department responded as well. The plane did not start a grass fire.

Judy said she’s never heard her husband say the word “Mayday” before.

“He was very resolute and looking for what he should do next, and very calm,” she said. “Since he started flying, and I love flying with him, he has always learned to be looking for a place to land if we might need to. He’s probably the most conscientious pilot I know. There’s a lot of people I wouldn’t fly with.”

Roy Owings said the FAA will have to conduct an investigation and the plane is going to have to get towed out.

“We won’t be flying it,” he said. “Not for a while.”

He said he’s never had to declare an emergency before.

“I knew I could set it down,” he said. “It was a good landing.”

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