The Beechcraft Bonanza B36-TP climbed slowly on what was supposed to be a routine flight.
One hundred feet. Then 200 feet. Everything was going fine.
Two longtime eye doctors and friends had charted the course for the two-seat, single-engine plane on a route to the EAA AirVenture Oshkosh in Wisconsin, the nation's largest gathering of aviation lovers.
Rod Keener, an optometrist who lives and works in Walnut Creek, was the co-pilot in the two seater plane with pilot Dan Baggett of Palo Alto.
Three hundred feet, 400 feet, and suddenly: "Five hundred feet," Keener said of the 8:45 a.m. flight from Aurora Municipal Airport in Illinois, "and the engine sputters."
In the next few seconds, Baggett acted quickly, steering the plane into a cornfield, mowing down stalks and finally coming to a stop. The pair emerged from the undamaged plane, not a scratch on either of them.
The 45-second ordeal on July 25 was perhaps the happiest ending for a person who can claim many of them.
When a patient mentions that it's good to see him, he says, "I appreciate that more than I ever have. You have no idea."
Keener, 65, is no stranger to the air, or to adversity. He received his pilot's license in 2001, and must go through a biannual flight review with a federally licensed certified flight instructor.
He also quarterbacked infantry teams during a stint in the Army and was an assistant coach during Campolindo High School's
The result: A life's worth of experience in preparation, staying focused during adversity and executing procedure.
"Luckily, we had training," Keener said. "What happened during those 45 seconds was everything we had been trained to do and what we had reviewed doing. Of course, when you practice it and review it, you can turn the engine back on. This time, we didn't have that option."
Until that point, the trip was uneventful. Keener and Baggett flew from Livermore to Utah to Colorado Springs to Aurora, a city of about 200,000 people about 50 miles outside Chicago. But 500 feet above the runway in Aurora, and suddenly all of those practice sessions became all too real.
"First, you power down your stall and get the engine off. Then you have to level the wings as much as possible, so that you don't flip. That's when you're gonna get serious injury and death," he said. "You turn the fuel off right away and propeller off, and at the last second you try to crack the door just a little bit so it doesn't jam.
"The last thing is, you get out of the plane as fast as you can."
When Keener and Baggett did just that, they found a path cut through the corn pasture where they landed. But gas didn't leak, fire didn't spark and the episode become one giant exercise in a fortunate escape.
It came with a sidelight, too. The plane Keener usually rented for his flying excursions, a 1980s Cessna, lost power over Buchanan Field in Concord on June 9 but managed to glide back and land on the golf course's driving range along Concord Avenue. The pilot in that flight also was uninjured.
"Maybe," Keener said, "I should've taken the hint."
Rick Hurd covers public safety. Contact him at 925-945-4780 and follow him at Twitter.com/3rdERH.