“When I was about five miles out, when I pulled my throttle the rpm went over 2,800, which is the max…that’s when I realized something was wrong.”
Aggarwal aborted his landing and began circling nearby to troubleshoot the throttle. Realizing that he had completely lost throttle authority, Aggarwal contacted 121.5 and declared an emergency. There was no response from air traffic control as radio coverage in that area can be spotty, but two pilots from FedEx and Alaska Airlines quickly offered Aggarwal a few suggestions.
After a few more minutes of circling and still unable to reach ATC, Aggarwal switched over to the Watsonville common traffic advisory frequency for help. LiveATC recorded Aggarwal’s initial request: “Watsonville traffic, November-four-niner-niner-three-one, still about four miles out of the Runway 20. I think I’ll have to cut the engine when I’m going in for landing [be]cause right now I have no throttle control. I cannot land with 100 percent power.” Within seconds, a CFI came on the frequency to offer assistance.
ATC was eventually able to contact Aggarwal via other aircraft in the area to see if he would like to receive emergency equipment, which Aggarwal declined at the time. In hindsight, Aggarwal said, “I should not have been scared to get equipment, that was one thing I should have done.”
After a few minutes of speaking with the CFI, it was decided that Aggarwal would use the mixture to control engine power and descend into Watsonville. According to Aggarwal, he attempted to restart the engine at about 800 feet on final, but was unable to do so. Ultimately, he landed the aircraft safely and cleared the runway.
The entire LiveATC incident can be heard on VASAviation’s YouTube channel.
Aggarwal recalled calling his mother, who lives in India, to share what had happened. It was 6 a.m. in India when he made that first call, and her response according to Aggarwal was, “So you landed right? OK, we’re going back to bed now.” His parents called back hours later and they “wanted to know every single thing that happened. They didn’t realize it at first, when it happened, but after, I think they freaked out a little bit, which is funny.”
Recalling the incident, Aggarwal says he’s learned to stay calm and be a lot more organized in the cockpit. “I could have been a little more calm. I did sound pretty calm, but there was still a lot of panic inside of me … I lost my checklist at the worst possible time .. which got stuck under my iPad. Something I want to do is have my cockpit a little more organized.”
Aggarwal hasn’t shied away from aviation since the incident. “I actually had a night flight the very next day. The second I landed I called my instructor. He said, ‘Are you free tomorrow?’” Aggarwal responded, “Yeah! Lets do it.”
Aggarwal has his checkride scheduled in April. “After that I’m going to work on my instrument rating, because I feel like that’s going to make me a safer pilot. I just want to keep pursuing aviation as a hobby for as long as I can.”