Fifteen minutes at dusk

Some time in the early 1990s, I arranged to have a packer meet me at Joseph State Airport (KJSY) in northeast Oregon to preload our camping gear for a trip the following day into the beautiful Wallowa Mountains. We had been in several times before backpacking, but this trip was to be a “comfort trip,” complete with music, fireside chairs, floored tents, and after (and before) dinner drinks around the campfire.

I had loaded N5434A, my trusty 1979 T210, with all the necessary gear and taken off from our home in La Grande (KLGD) not long before sunset that summer evening for the short flight over the north end of the Wallowa range to Joseph. KJSY is one of several state-maintained rural airports, and has a wide, 5200 foot lighted runway at 4121 feet elevation.

Lake at sunset
The scenery is stunning, but that means there’s wildlife around. (Courtesy of Praise Photography)

Just a couple of miles south of the airport is the magnificently beautiful Wallowa Lake, which would be the background for our hike in the following day. The trip up was uneventful, and I landed, met the packer, and unloaded our gear without incident. Very little daylight was left as I fired up for the return trip.

The runway at Joseph is crowned, and does not permit line-of-sight vision of either end from the other. I had, as did most pilots, used it as a two-way strip that evening, landing to the south, where the terminal ramp was located, and taking off to the north to avoid the mile-long taxi in light wind conditions.

After the runup, I broadcast my intentions and took the active for the trip home. Given the cool evening, light load, and adequate runway, I chose not to use a short field technique, but slowly brought in full power.

N5434A accelerated in her usual manner and soon I was checking airspeed looking for my 75-knot rotation point. Then, in the landing light, my heart seemed to explode as I saw a full line of deer spread across the runway from edge to edge and beyond. The turbo governor had already stabilized at full throttle travel, so with no additional throttle left, it was ground effect or nothing.

I quickly put down the second notch of flaps, hauled back on the yoke (but did not feel the tail skid strike, thankfully) and saw the airspeed hovering around 55 knots. N5434A seemed to struggle for just a moment, then rose no more than five feet above the highest set of horns in the line! As soon as I cleared them, it was down elevator to prevent the stall, and thankfully ground effect held me up until the airspeed regained control and a real climb ensued.

Taking a deep breath, I imagined what would have happened if I had not been light on fuel and cabin payload. By the time I taxied in back in LaGrande, my heart rate was back to normal and I gave N5434A a warm pat before closing the hangar door.

Joseph has subsequently encircled the airport with an eight foot cyclone fence, and I have vowed to never use a crowned runway without a taxi check first.

3 Comments

  • Judge, we all have deer stories, but yours is a bit more nerve-racking than most. Glad you kept your head and did what you had to do. The word “imperative” comes to mind…? Hope you find another T210.

  • In the late 80’s,after landing at my boss’s ranch strip after dark (5 clicks for lights) in his Mooney and slowing through about 50 knot, one deer stopped and the other continued across the runway as I went between them.
    At White Planes, NY, in the early 90’s, just before touchdown around midnight in Lear 35 (35-015) my co-pilot and I both saw at least 3 deer straight ahead and simultaneously pulled the yoke enough to level and then forward enough to get a normal landing out of it.

  • Hi Judge, great story. I miss N5434A too. It is a great airplane and I’m glad it found a good home. —Don K. in Las Vegas

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *