ORLANDO, Fla. - Adam Barney has been flying for about ten years. He said he loves the freedom and the independence of flying, and he loves the character-building exercise of having no one to rely on but yourself.
However, on a recent solo flight from Orlando to Key West, he learned something though: sometimes, you do need someone else. He wouldn’t be alive if a deputy hadn’t found him stranded in the Gulf of Mexico after both his plane’s engines failed. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said he reported the incident in his Aero Commander 500 around 10:30 a.m. Sunday. Barney said it started with just one engine, but the other followed.
"It’s always incredibly loud in a GA airplane," Barney explained. But then, "It got real quiet, and it was very eerie."
He tried to operate his aircraft like a paper airplane – gliding over the air at the perfect angle to get the most distance with the least drop-off. It quickly became clear that he wasn’t going to hit land, so he carried the plane down, sticking with it the entire way until it crashed into the Gulf.
"It hit the water very, very violently," he recounted.
The plane opens with a hatch, rather than a button. You have to push it open.
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But the water had already risen above the doorframe. He had to scrunch up and use his feet to kick the door open before the ocean overtook the plane. Thankfully, he was able to climb out.
"I didn’t get scared until the plane disappeared beneath me in the water," remembered Barney.
He didn’t think to grab his phone but did grab a life vest. He was focused on how to stay afloat or reach land.
"I’m a good swimmer, and it was hard. It was hard to breathe with all the waves crashing over top of me," said Barney. "My life jacket started to deflate, so I had to manually inflate that every ten minutes."
He says he spent around an hour and forty-five minutes of trying to stay afloat and watching boats go by. He knows because he checked his watch when he first got out into the water.
He started contemplating whether he’d be able to swim to a crab trap, and if that might be enough to keep him afloat if his life vest finally went out entirely. He was losing energy, but refusing to lose hope.
Then finally, he was saved.
Deputy Trevor Pike with the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office found him and pulled him up.
Barney says the deputy told him he hadn’t initially planned to go out on the water that day.
"I remember him saying after he picked me up, he was like, ‘I just had a hunch. I had a feeling I needed to be out on the water.’ Whatever you believe in, I’m glad he did. If it was God or whatever powers that be, I’m glad he did what he did that day," said Barney. "He saved my life."
His plane didn’t make it, but Barney says this won’t be the end of his time as a pilot.
"I will be back up in an airplane, I’m not going to stop flying. I couldn’t – it’s too much a part of me."
Deputy Pike’s body camera caught the rescue on video.
"That definitely lists on the craziest experiences of my life," you can hear Barney saying on the video as they drive to safety.
As for lessons learned, Barney says he’s going to start keeping better life jackets and wearing them any time he’s flying over water. He encourages other pilots to do the same.
The FAA and National Transportation Safety Board are both investigating the crash.