Emergency Landing on an Anthill

Ernie Tanner experienced a dangerous emergency landing during the drought in the south of Ethiopia in 1985. Together with General Mobratu, Governor of the Province of Gemu Gofa and a good friend of his, he had the task of inspecting the state of health of the people in certain areas of the country.  

At seven o’clock in the morning, Ernie Tanner and the Governor took off from the airfield in Felega Novoi by helicopter. They had often flown together. As Ernie flew into a side valley the engine suddenly cut out. He immediately began an autorotation. The valley beneath them was covered in forest. No free space far and wide where they could touch down unharmed.

Ernie’s eye fell on a scree slope at the foot of a mountain on their right. It wasn’t flat, but he was hopeful of getting away with a light crash landing at worst. Ernie’s intention was to land facing towards the mountain. As he nosedived in that direction, he suddenly felt a strong upwind caused by the heat of the sun. It carried the helicopter higher up the scree slope than he had aimed for. The slope was getting steeper and narrower by the second, with the occasional tree. There was no time to hesitate. He broke the fall, pulled the aircraft to the left and hit the ground hard, with a big bump.

Three feet (1 m) ahead of them was a sheer drop, and around 30 feet (8 m) behind them was the same. Terrified, he waited for the helicopter to tip over into the precipice as soon as the rotors slowed down. To his amazement, it stayed in place, perfectly level. How could that be possible? With the impact on landing, the landing gear on the mountainside had bent upwards about one foot (30 cm) and the left-hand skid was resting on an anthill, exactly one foot (30 cm) high! It was the only anthill in the area! A miracle!

For safety reasons, Ernie asked the Governor to get out of the helicopter quickly. He hadn’t even noticed that Ernie had made an emergency landing. When he was out, Ernie explained to him what had happened, and his eyes grew as big as saucers. “You are a strong man!” he yelled, “You are a strong man! God spared our lives! Thank you, God! Thank you, God!” and he threw his arms up to heaven. Yes, indeed, we had every reason to thank God.