On January 1, 1967, Ellington made national news when its residents assisted the city fire department in rescuing a pilot whose plane was having engine trouble and was unable to locate a runway in a fog that cut visibility to 200 feet. Under the direction and quick thinking of Resident State Trooper, Lionel Labreche, Connecticut State Police, dozens of people assembled at the town’s unlit airstrip, Hyde Field, and illuminated the runway with their headlights, allowing the pilot to land safely.
Pilot Frank Robinson’s small, single-engine plane was about a dozen miles from Bradley International Airport when its radio died. “When that went out, so did my navigation,” said Robinson.
Clouds, ground fog and a freezing drizzle cut visibility to about 200 feet. Robinson banked his plane downward through the clouds and looked for a place to land. “There was nowhere I could go,” he said.
He spotted a house with lights on a nearby field and used it as a landmark, but then the lights in the house went out, and he lost his bearings. Using precious fuel, he circled above, barely above the tree line. Townspeople heard the low-flying plane and phoned the fire department and state police trooper Lionel Labreche, reporting the strange activity of the plane.
Along with about 25 volunteer fire fighters, dozens of townspeople drove to the airstrip to see what was going on. That’s when Labreche got the idea to line up all the cars and illuminate the runway with their headlights. The landing strip began to glow from the revolving red lights of the fire and police trucks, the car headlights and even flashlights. Robinson caught sight of the lights and thought they might be signaling him.
About thirty minutes later, Robinson landed his plane – without a scratch!
Some would say Robinson had some dumb luck, but the truth is his luck was far from dumb. Thanks to quick thinking and amazing teamwork, the incident ended without calamity.
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