Two Embry-Riddle students were flying near Palatka, Florida, in March preparing for a national flight competition when they heard an emergency call. Jim Goolsby, 81, a retired airline captain, made an emergency landing in nearby water with an alligator eyeing him from shore. Senior flight instructor Chris Shields and aeronautical science junior Connor Cvetan responded immediately, contacting Jacksonville’s air traffic control and sharing Goolsby’s location with emergency services, the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard. Though the pair had to leave the scene as their fuel level dropped, a Navy helicopter ultimately arrived and pulled Goolsby from the sinking aircraft. The two received Embry-Riddle’s Aviation Safety Department monthly safety award. Aeronautical science senior Steven Lange also assisted emergency services on scene while Cvetan and Shields left to refuel.
“This situation was one that there was no checklist for,” Shields said, “but I still understood how to effectively handle it, all due to the safety-focused training that Embry-Riddle provided me.” Rich Garner, flight training manager and Eagles Flight Team coach, praised the pair. “The reason this incident had a happy ending is because of Chris and Connor,” Garner said. “No one else responded, and the crashed pilot might not have had that easy of a rescue had they not been in the right location and done the right thing.”
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