Survival

Hero Mum: Two Minutes To Save Our Lives!

Mum-of-two Michelle and her boy had a lucky escape thanks to her skill
  • Michelle Yeates, 45, from Maida Vale, WA quit her job to fly planes
  • Her youngest son loves going up in the air with her
  • When they flew together in April this year, the engine suddenly cut out and Michelle faced a race against the clock to save their lives

Here Michelle tells her story in her own words.

Looking out the window, I admired the picturesque scenery below as I flew my four-seat plane.

‘Look at the beautiful blue water,’ I pointed out to my son Jacob, 15, who was in the front passenger seat and my boy Lucas, 17, in the back.

It was a beautiful sunny day this April, and I was jetting my boys off to Carnavon, WA, in my light aircraft to see a solar eclipse, while my hubby Marcus, 46, stayed home.

After 25 years in the mining industry, I’d quit my job to pursue a career in flying. This is my calling, I thought, getting my commercial licence in September 2022.

Afraid of heights, Lucas wasn’t as keen a flyer, but Jacob always enjoyed tagging along for flights.

‘What does this button do?’ he’d ask, curious.

I wonder if he’ll be a pilot someday, I’d think.

Michelle Yeates and her son Jake
Jacob and Michelle (Credit: Supplied.)

‘The plane was descending – but I couldn’t panic.’

Watching the eclipse through our solar goggles, we were in awe. After a spot of lunch, I did all my checks and refuelled the plane before flying us back to Geraldton Airport where Lucas’ car was parked.

‘I’ll meet you both at home,’ he said.

Soaring back into the air, I headed towards Jandakot Airport, which was right near our house.

More than half way into the flight, I spotted some smoke in the air. Realising we were flying over Lancelin where there’d been some nearby bushfires, I didn’t think there was anything to panic about.

Travelling south, we took in the lovely coastline. This is gorgeous, I thought.

At around 5pm, just north of Fremantle and about five minutes from our destination, the engine suddenly decreased revs very rapidly.

The engine’s cut out, I thought, swearing.

Glancing over at my boy, I thought, This is bad.

As I tried to bring the engine back to life, it revved back up for a millisecond, only to die again.

‘Okay mate, we’ve had an engine failure,’ I said calmly to Jacob.

The plane was descending – but I couldn’t panic. There was too much at stake…

Losing height quickly, we went from 1800 feet to 1500 in just 20 seconds.

Despite us dropping to less than 1000 feet 40 seconds later, my brave boy was amazingly calm. Looking ahead, I could see Jandakot Airport about 15 kilometres ahead.

We aren’t going to make that, I thought. We only had another 60 seconds before making impact!

Looking down at Leighton Beach north of Fremantle below, I saw heaps of people on the sand, but thankfully not many in the calm turquoise water behind the waves.

‘May day!’ I said over the radio to flight control at just 500ft in the air.

Quickly, I explained my situation and they told me to make contact again once I landed safely on the water.

With the wind behind me, I turned the plane 180 degrees, with the nose as high as I could, so we wouldn’t flip when we hit the water.

‘Mum, should I unlock the door?’ Jacob asked, as the aircraft quickly neared the ocean.

‘Yes!’ I said. It’d be hard to open while under water.

Michelle Yeates plane crash
The light plane crashed off the coast off Leighton Beach (Credit: Diane Yappo)

Jacob unlatched the door while he was still buckled into his seat, and gripped on for dear life as he held it open. Then the propeller violently hit the water and the plane came to an abrupt stop.

There was barely even a splash!

I couldn’t believe that, in just over two minutes from the engine failing, we’d landed into the sea!

The plane instantly started to sink as it filled with water. We unclipped our belts and hopped out onto the right wing. Then, jumping into the sea, we swam towards the shore.

‘I can’t believe that happened!’ I said hugging my boy, thrilled we made it out alive.

On the beach, kind strangers wrapped us both in towels and blankets, before ambos checked us over when they arrived soon after.

Incredibly, we didn’t even have a bump, bruise or a scratch!

When Lucas made a pit stop on his journey, he called us saying he’d already heard about the commotion on the 6pm news over the car radio!

‘I’m so glad you’re both okay!’ he said.

I made calls to friends and family, and of course my worried husband, to let them know we were all right.

Returning home, I was very upset about saying goodbye to my beloved plane, which was now fully submerged. But I was so grateful that my boy and I had survived.

Michelle Yeates plane crash
The plane under the water off Leighton Beach (Credit: Amy at girlscanflyanything.com)

‘My happy place is above the clouds.’

Just three days after the incident, I had a training flight scheduled.

‘Are you sure you still want to do this?’ the instructor asked.

‘Absolutely,’ I said.

Up in the air, I didn’t feel at all traumatised, and felt so calm in my happy place above the clouds.

In the June school holidays, I was surprised both my kids were keen to fly with me again!

Thankfully the plane I lost was fully insured, and I’m looking to buy another in the future. And the Australian Transport Safety Bureau is still investigating the crash to try to determine what happened.

Jacob was a bit of a local celeb at his school after the accident. ‘I knew Mum would save us!’ he said.

But I couldn’t have done it without him – my cool, calm, collected boy who helped me land the plane safely.

The plane going down was a low, but I’ll always reach for the sky.

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