It was a bright sunny morning in Sarasota, Florida, as I headed out on my first solo cross-country fight. I was in a Cessna 152 I had flown many times; my destination was Ft. Myers, and I had flown there several times with my instructor as well.
As I neared Ft. Myers, Florida’s unpredictable summer thunderstorms completely covered my approach. The 152 started bouncing as I drew closer, and I had to make a decision: Should I try flying around the thunderstorm and approach Ft. Myers from the south? It looked like I could easily fly out west over the Gulf of Mexico and fly around the storm. I finally decided that this may be a risky choice and decided to radio Ft. Myers approach to see if they were covered with rain and what they would suggest. To my surprise, no one answered. I repeated but no response. I tried other stations, but no response. The radio was not working!
The flight school had instructed us in the event of loss of radio: we were to land at Venice, Florida, a non-towered airport, and call them. As I approached Venice, it, too, was covered in thunderstorms. I seemed trapped—thunderstorms were everywhere. I decided the safest thing to do was fly toward the sun. Wherever the sun was, I headed in that direction.
After flying for about an hour and a half, I was totally lost. I was over land but couldn’t recognize a thing; at least I was in the sun and away from the big thunderstorms. In desperation, I started to fiddle with the radio. It suddenly came alive. The radio wasn’t dead; a switch was in its neutral position. I had never realized in my brief flight training that the radio had an off-on and neutral position. In bouncing around near the thunderstorms close to Ft. Myers, I had inadvertently put the radio in the neutral position.
Now with the radio working, I reached a comforting voice and explained my situation. I was lost. The voice asked, “What can you see?” I could see a really big bridge ahead. “St. Petersburg,” he said. Okay; I’m not lost, but then he asked, “What do you want to do?” I said, “Put this thing on the ground ASAP.”
He pointed out a small airport with a grass strip right beneath me, where I could land. I looked at it, but explained I’ve never landed on a grass strip before. He said, “Well, just circle where you are. The thunderstorms are moving away quickly.” When I was clear, he would give me vectors back to Sarasota.
I landed in Sarasota shaken, but alive. My instructor was worried about where I had been all this time. I explained what a harrowing experience I just had. His only comment? This did not count as my first cross-country flight since I did not land anywhere else, no matter that I had flown all over Florida for hours. The next day, I completed my first cross-country trip to Ft. Myers, uneventfully.