BVU trustee goes down in the Mississippi River, saved by fisherman
A member of the Buena Vista University Board of Trustees, his wife and their daughter survived after their private plane crashed into the Mississippi River and a fisherman plucked them from the icy water. They were flying from Minneapolis.
A few minutes after Warren Mack took off Sunday morning for Storm Lake, a red alternator light went on inside the Piper Malibu he was piloting. His wife, Linda, and their daughter, Leslie, smelled burning, and Mack feared engine failure.
"I keyed the mike and said: 'Malibu 9103 Quebec is declaring in-flight emergency,"' Mack said. "'Three souls on board. Returning to Fleming Field. I think I have a massive engine failure.'"
He banked the plane to the left but realized he didn't have enough power to make it back. "My power was completely gone and I just cleared the trees on the side of the river," Mack said.
Mack, 57, has seven years of flight experience - including flying hundreds of float planes - and knew he had to maintain airspeed to avoid a stall.
"If that happens, you lose control and die," the Minneapolis lawyer said. "So I pushed the nose down hard to gain speed and tried to hold the plane one foot over the water and bring it to a complete stall to settle into the water tail first."
Ironically, Mack had landed float planes in the same spot on the Mississippi east of Inver Grove Heights.
But this time, Mack had no pontoons. He also was traveling about 83 miles an hour and had to retract his landing gear to avoid a catapult impact, which could have cartwheeled the plane upside down in the river.
"That wasn't a good feeling," said Linda Mack, 55. "That was not a happy moment."
As the plane struck the Mississippi, the right wing was sheared off and the tail was severely damaged, absorbing the brunt of the crash.
"When we landed, there was a big 'sploosh' over the windshield and I looked to see if we were still above the water - and we were," Linda Mack said.
With Leslie Mack, 22, leading the way, they pushed open the left-side door and climbed onto the plane's remaining wing.
They began swimming to an island about 80 feet away when Newport fisherman John Jacoby tossed them seat cushions and yanked them aboard his boat.
"He landed us pretty much like fish," Linda Mack said. "He's our hero because, if he hadn't come along, who knows how long we'd have been sitting on that island."
Jacoby took the family to Wiplinger's house on the western shore of the river.
"Ditchings don't usually work out," Warren Mack said. "It was just a very inopportune position to lose power because you're so low and have very few options and very little time to think. You basically just want to get the plane down."
In 1997, a plane that had taken off from Fleming Field crashed into the Mississippi, killing three people.
Sunday night, the Macks dined with friends who had experienced their own engine failure and survived.
"They brought the champagne," Linda Mack said.