3 Houston Boy Scouts Safe After Rough Merit Badge Landing

SAN ANTONIO - Three Boy Scouts from Houston and their pilot walked away from a hard landing Saturday at Hondo Municipal Airport after part of the plane's landing gear failed to lock in place, witnesses said.

"I'm glad to be down safe. I was really scared after I saw part of the wheel fall off," said 12-year-old Eric Riegel.

He and fellow scouts Nathaniel Mayberry, 13, and Kirby Vandervort, 10, were flying with pilot Thomas Skiles to earn merit badges.

Dozens of other Scouts were present when the airplane started its landing approach and it became apparent something was wrong, said Nathaniel's father, Luther Mayberry.

"My son and the other boys were on one of the last round of flights and we were on the tarmac watching the plane coming in when I sensed something was not well, something was out of place," the father said. "The wheels did not come down all the way and the pilot circled."

"As he came in for the belly landing, the emergency vehicles raced toward the airplane and I did, too."

The scouts and the pilot quickly escaped the plane. There was no fire.

Seconds before the plane came down, Riegel said the pilot told his passengers he would land on the grass next to the runway.

"Then there was a hard thump when we hit and we got out fast. It was about five minutes between the time we knew the landing gear wasn't working and when we got down. It was really scary," the boy said.

Airport manager Timothy Fousee said a lever that locks the landing gear in place malfunctioned. He said the Federal Aviation Administration is reviewing the incident.

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