Five friends were jumping on a trampoline in a backyard across the street from Highland Springs High School on Wednesday afternoon when a small plane tore through the power lines just above their heads.
They heard the loud “boom” it made as it knocked out power to the neighborhood and schools nearby, and then saw the plane crash-land in the baseball field behind the school.
“It was so close,” said Heather Reilly, who graduated from the high school across the street this year.
“I could have jumped off that trampoline and touched that [plane],” said Ryan Sullivan, facetiously jumping up and swatting the air. “No, it wasn’t that low, but it was close.” Sullivan is a recent Varina High School graduate who spent two years at Highland Springs High, off Nine Mile Road in eastern Henrico County.
“I thought it could have hit the school,” said Ethan Brown, another former Highland Springs student who is now being home-schooled. “I’ve got friends in there. It could have been bad.”
About 1:20 p.m. Wednesday, the single-engine Cessna 180 made an emergency landing when it experienced engine failure, Virginia State Police spokeswoman Corinne Geller said in a news release. The small plane was en route to Richmond International Airport nearby and had received clearance to land when the engine failed, Geller said.
No injuries were reported inside the plane or on the ground. The pilot, a 55-year-old man from Ontario, Canada, was the plane’s only occupant.
The aircraft had departed from Ontario on Wednesday morning, police said.
“Whatever skill or luck went into making that landing into that field, under the circumstances, I think that’s pretty incredible,” Henrico schools spokesman Andy Jenks told members of the media at the scene.
The cause of the emergency landing is under investigation. The Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board were notified.
In addition to state police, personnel from Richmond International Airport, the Henrico Police Department, and Henrico Fire and EMS also responded to the scene.
Power outages affected a number of schools, including Highland Springs High, ACE Center at Highland Springs, Highland Springs Elementary School, Donahoe Elementary School, Fair Oaks Elementary School and the New Bridge Learning Center. Power was restored fully by 5:30 p.m.
Teachers and the schools’ dining services department provided water to students to keep them cool as temperatures started to rise without air conditioning, Jenks said. School system personnel monitored temperatures on a room-by-room basis, he added. Classroom lights were off throughout the afternoon, but hallways were lit by backup generators.
The incident had no impact on dismissal times, Jenks said, although parents began arriving at the high school soon after they heard about the crash to retrieve their children and were thwarted by school officials and police officers. Highland Springs High was placed on lockdown while officials figured out how to deal with early dismissals.
“Kids are texting parents about how hot they were,” said Chaka Myers, who waited about two hours outside the school to pick up her daughter. “It took a long time to get any information.”
One parent who didn’t want to be identified said her child suffered from a condition that was exacerbated by heat, but officials rebuffed her pleas to release the student.
About 3:30 p.m., about 20 minutes before students are normally released, parents were asked to make a line. One-by-one, their child’s information was collected and the students were retrieved and released.
“One thing you don’t do in a school system was just open the doors and turn it into a free-for-all,” Jenks said. “So you do have to spend a little bit of time coming up with a safe and orderly plan.”
Students inside didn’t seem fazed by the commotion outside on their second day of the school year.
“It was a normal school day,” said Jalaya Williams, Myers’ daughter.
All schools affected by the power outage will open on time Thursday, Jenks said Wednesday evening.