Pilot Pat Greenwell, a member of the Chapel Hill Flying Club, was forced to land just after takeoff when the lone engine of the plane she was flying failed.
"For reasons we don't know, the engine sputtered," said Bill Sawyer, president of the Flying Club. "It was at takeoff, and they turned around ... and landed in the trees at the end of the runway."
Greenwell and Richard Binkley, who was also in the plane, were able to climb out of the plane and return to the Horace Williams Airport on Estes Drive. Once they returned to the airport, they notified the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board. UNC officials also were informed.
Chapel Hill Fire Deputy Robert Bosworth said Chapel Hill authorities were not notified of the accident until around 8:25 p.m.
"The intent was not to dispatch us to a plane crash -- the intent was to dispatch us to a fuel leak from the plane," he said. "But we thought we were responding to a plane crash."
Bosworth said he saw Greenwell on the train tracks near the landing and asked if she needed any medical attention. "We asked if she was hurt, she said no; we asked her if she wanted an ambulance, she said no," he said.
Sawyer, who flew the Cherokee Piper Warrior plane earlier in the day, said there were no obvious reasons for the forced landing. "There was no water in the fuel, and there was lots of fuel in the tank," he said. "For an engine to quit midflight is unusual."
Sawyer said the club has no plans to ground its planes for now, but it will be looking into what might have caused the engine to stop.
"The plane is one of the safer of the single-engine, low-wing planes," he said.
"This has never happened before."
The City Editor can be reached at email@example.com.
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.