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Manhattan Science Teacher Safely Lands Plane on New Jersey Golf Course

Source: NY Times
By Christina Goldbaum

A Manhattan science teacher by trade, Jonas De Leon is a pilot at heart.

This fall he even began teaching some of his students about aviation at Gregorio Luperon High School for Science and Mathematics, work that was featured in a PBS report on Friday.

Just two days later, Mr. De Leon’s skills as a pilot were put to a terrifying real-life test: The plane he was flying on Sunday made an emergency landing on the ninth hole of a golf course in Paramus, N.J.

Of the four people on the plane when it landed, three sustained minor injuries, Sgt. Michael Pollaro of the Paramus Police Department said.

Ron Dorell, a cashier in the pro shop of the Paramus Golf Course, said he first noticed the small plane circling the course around noon. Eventually it passed over the crest of a hill, out of sight of staff members in the shop.

Minutes later, passers-by who had been driving by the golf course rushed into the clubhouse to report that a plane had landed on the course.

“There’s a lot of open space on the golf course,” Mr. Dorell said, speculating that the pilot might have considered it the best possible landing space in the area.

Only about 18 golfers were on the course when the plane went down, according to Mr. Dorell. Because of a frost delay earlier in the morning, the golfers had only set out at noon and were nowhere near the ninth hole when the plane landed there.

“Normally we are packed on a weekend,” Mr. Dorrell said. “But luckily, because of the frost, we didn’t have anyone out there on the back nine, so none of our golfers were injured.”

Christine La Palma, Mr. De Leon’s partner, said in a phone interview on Sunday that she had just arrived at the hospital where the passengers were taken for treatment, and that she had no information about the circumstances of the landing.

“Right now my only concern is whether everyone is O.K.,” Ms. La Palma said.

In the PBS report, Mr. De Leon is described as having dreamed of learning to fly ever since he was a child watching planes from his parents’ porch. He began taking lessons at 17 and later bought a 1984 single-engine Mooney aircraft.

Becoming a pilot “was the only dream I had that stayed with me,” Mr. De Leon told PBS.

On Sunday, Mr. De Leon took off from Lincoln Park Airport in Lincoln Park, N.J., and landed on the 18-hole course around 12:15 p.m., according to Sergeant Pollaro.

“We tell all our pilots to train as if this will happen to you,” said Richard McSpadden, executive director of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association’s Air Safety Institute. But an emergency landing like this, he said, “is very rare.”

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