...The Real Story May Be Better
Walls calculated that he'd have eight gallons of fuel, or about 40 minutes of flying time, left when he landed in Ireland. He slipped into his survival suit, set the airplane up for best fuel economy and settled in for the flight. He also told Irish authorities that rather than go to his original destination, a GA airport at Galway, he'd head for the longer runway and better equipment at Shannon, about 30 miles farther. Nobody told the people in Galway, however, which was in the middle of a power blackout. Thinking they were the last hope for a pilot in a stricken aircraft, the good people of Galway lined the dark runway with cars, using their headlights to illuminate what they thought was Walls' lifeline. "I didn't even find out about it until three days later," said Walls. He continued to Shannon and landed. The engine did stop on the runway but Walls switched tanks and taxied in. Witnesses reported him being sweat-soaked and exhausted and being escorted from the plane. "Yeah, I was drenched in sweat," said Walls. "I'd just spent two and a half hours in a rubber suit!" As for the escort, Walls said it's common for Irish immigration officials to accompany pilots through Customs. "They're just that friendly," he said. A short time later, he said he was in a pub recounting the experience as revelers brought in the New Year. He resumed his trip to the Netherlands the next day. He said that as more reporters joined the hunt (he was hard to reach because he was flying) the more desperate they became, calling his wife at home and even contacting former business associates and competitors, and a legendary tale was created. "If it wasn't New Year's Eve, nobody ever would have heard about it," he said.