16 March 1991

Where did my power go?

The Walls, the Kindreds, and the Millers were skiing again. The six of us were flying from Eagle, Colorado, near Vail back to Middletown. After a scenic flyover of Vail, and two hours into the trip, I noticed a mysterious drop in the manifold pressure from 26 inches down to 20 inches.

The engine seemed to be running okay. We lost a few knots of airspeed, but not any altitude. Full throttle increased the power to only 22-23 inches of manifold pressure. For several hundred miles in all directions the weather was low IFR, and it was below freezing all the way to the ground. I was at 13,000 feet in the clouds. The outside temperature was 20o. The 210 was equipped for deicing, but the boots would not work unless the engine was running. Even with the engine running smoothly, I knew something was not right, and I needed to get on the ground in a hurry. I did not know how much longer the engine would continue to work.

For some reason most pilots are reluctant to declare an emergency. When they do, it is usually too late. At that point I calmly keyed the microphone and announced in a monotone voice, "Mayday, mayday, mayday." (I get chills just typing it!) Rob rolled the code for emergency (7700) into the transponder. (Mayday originates from the French phrase "m'aidez" which is pronounced "mayday". It means "help me".) When I informed Denver Center of my problem, they said that St. Francis, Kansas, was the closest airport, twelve miles away.

I checked my charts and found that it only had an NDB approach. The current weather was well below the minimums. On top of that I had already dialed in the ADF for that airport, and it was not working.

The weather was low enough that only an ILS approach could lead us to an airport. We could not afford to descend through icing conditions and then be forced to fly a missed approach. The closest ILS was at Goodland, Kansas, thirty miles away. Goodland was reporting 100 sky obscured, visibility quarter-mile. That was too low even for an ILS.

The next alternative was North Platte, Nebraska, 55 miles away. It was 300 overcast, visibility one-half mile, fog. We accepted the vector to North Platte. Because of the icing threat and a questionable engine, I wanted to stay high as long as I could.

It took the 210 twenty minutes to fly direct to North Platte. It was a long twenty minutes, but the engine continued to run smoothly. My passengers were doing the praying while I was busy with the airplane. We picked up no ice on the quick descent and ILS approach to the airport.

A mechanic ran the engine up to full power and found absolutely nothing wrong with it. In less than an hour the weather deteriorated to 200 overcast, half-mile and fog. Not knowing what caused the reduced power, I was unwilling to take the 210 back into low IFR icing conditions. We were forced to rent a car and drive 1,000 miles from North Platte back to Middletown. Six unhappy people in one car for 24 hours, the 210 was in serious jeopardy.

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