A commuter plane made a skidding, bumpy forced landing in a grassy field south of Dulles International Airport last night after one or both engines shut down. All eight persons aboard were taken to a hospital with what appeared to be minor injuries.
The pilot of the American Eagle airline plane made the forced landing about 7:45 p.m. after power was lost in the left engine of the Swearingen MetroII, according to a spokesman for American Airlines, which has a marketing agreement with the commuter line. Witnesses and passengers, however, said they believed both engines were out.
Passenger Gerald A. Katler said the propeller-driven plane was banking in what was believed to be its final approach to Dulles when he saw a red light in the cockpit, looked out the window and saw that the engine on the left side was not operating.
He said he asked a passenger on the other side of the plane, "Is your engine on?" and the reply was, "No, it isn't."
Then, Katler said, "I put my head down just before the pilot said, 'Brace yourselves.' "
Katler, who is president of Seating Products Industries, had been in Newark, where the flight had originated. He said that in 15 years of air travel, he had seen "nothing like this."
"It was a rough landing," he said. "We just bounced and bounced."
As the plane bumped to a stop, Katler said his thoughts were of his family. "I was thinking, 'Boy, I hope I get through this so I can see them again' . . . . I figured this is it."
The plane, which apparently clipped the tops of several eight-foot saplings in its descent, skidded about 200 yards, according to witnesses, before coming to rest, its nose smashed and landing gear severed, in a field near Poplar Tree Road and Westfield Boulevard.
Nancy Wood of Herndon, wife of passenger Calvin Wood, 42, said her husband told her the low-wing airplane hit the ground with "a great big thud."
As soon as the plane stopped, she said, her husband got out of his seat, "twisted the ring on the emergency door with all his might and jumped onto the wing."
She said her husband, a man who had always described the most dangerous part of flying as the drive to the airport, telephoned her from a nearby house to say, "Honey, we've crashed in a field."
Joe Gernentz, 33, of Chantilly, who was driving nearby when he saw the plane come down at what he described as a steep angle, stopped his car, ran to the scene, and placed his coat around the pilot, who he said was lying down and may have injured his back.
Those who emerged from the plane appeared calm, he said. Most were saying such things as "Man, I don't believe this happened," he said.
All aboard the plane -- six passengers and two crew members -- were taken to Fair Oaks Hospital with injuries that included cuts, bruises and fractures. According to first reports, the most seriously injured was the pilot, who was not immediately identified. Authorities indicated that he suffered a fractured vertebra.
The cause of the engine problems could not be learned immediately. Last night, investigators from the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board were on the scene, about 2 1/2 miles south of the airport. Designated Flight 3464, the plane "I put my head down just before the pilot said, 'Brace yourselves.' "
-- Gerald A. Katler
was scheduled to fly to Charlottesville after stopping at Dulles.
The crash brought police from the airport as well as Fairfax County and Virginia State Police to the scene, which is about 2 1/2 miles south of the airport on land that reportedly is to be developed for a subdivision.
Firefighters from the airport and from Fairfax City spread foam on the plane, which appeared to be substantially intact, except for damage to its nose and landing gear wheels.