5/5/2021 Purdue Pete airport

An aviation-themed Purdue Pete poster is hung on a hangar wall at the Purdue Airport.

A flight student and instructor landed a small Purdue aircraft in a Montgomery County cornfield Thursday morning after the engine reportedly idled and failed. 

Bob Stwalley, a 90-year-old retired farmer who owns the field about a mile north of Interstate 74, said he was working in his garage Thursday morning when a Crawfordsville police officer walked in and said, "There's an airplane that landed in your field."

Officers from Crawfordsville, Montgomery County and Indiana State Police showed up, Stwalley said. Purdue flight employees removed the wings later in the afternoon and hauled the plane away in pieces. They told Stwalley the issue was a throttle linkage failure in the Slovenia-made Pipistrel airplane.

Data on the Federal Aviation Administration website confirms Thursday's incident was with a Pipistrel Sinus aircraft. "Aircraft experienced engine issues and made a forced landing in a field, Crawfordsville, IN," the website reads. 

A Purdue police dispatch entry Thursday also confirms the incident. Several attempts Friday to reach Montgomery County police for details were unsuccessful.

Purdue spokesperson Tim Doty confirmed the "engine issue" with the aircraft but said the pilot was part of Able Flight, which trains individuals with disabilities. Purdue owns the plane, he said.

The two women in the plane landed safely, Stwalley said, and the 3- to 4-inch corn plants were not harmed in all the ruckus, which impressed him.

The glider was "just the tiniest little bitty thing," the farmer said. "I don't even know how two people could fit in that thing."

He remembers one other emergency landing in the same field, from years ago, when a hot-air balloon descended. But that day, the corn was chest high. Stwalley said the conditions this time were more favorable, including a dry field instead of the rainy muck the plane would have encountered not long ago.

"I'll take my hat off to the young lady who landed it," he said about the surprise visit that spawned the fun story he had been telling all day. In fact, he sees some humor in his field being swarmed by Purdue people most of the day.

"I'm an IU grad," he said, chuckling, "and I didn't even charge 'em rent while they were out there."

Another incident occurred May 20 when Purdue’s airport called police about 8 p.m. An aircraft was reporting possible faulty landing gear. Purdue police Capt. Song Kang said last week the Purdue police and fire departments were called to stand by, but the aircraft was able to land with no incident. 

Doty said Friday, however, that he could not find information on the May 20 incident and that it was possible it was a privately owned aircraft.

The Exponent published an investigative story earlier this month on the privatization of Purdue's airport and concerns about safety issues, which can be read here.

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