THE Tiger Moth's engine started coughing as veteran pilot Charlotte Zeederberg made her way down the NSW north coast from Newcastle towards Blacksmiths Beach.
Ms Zeederberg was flying out to sea with two other vintage planes, which had taken off from Luskintyrein northern NSW on a regular Sunday morning joy flight in February 2019, when the vintage plane's engine began to fail and it started losing altitude.
A specialist Tiger Moth pilot, she knew immediately she was in trouble. "I did an emergency call but the frequency was very busy and neither of the other two Tiger Moths realised what was happening," she said.
"I was quite far over the sea and the engine just kept cough, cough, cough and it didn't stop. It definitely got my attention, I can promise you that. I knew I had to land."
Speaking publicly on Sunday for the first time since the emergency landing, the 54-year-old said she was unaware at the time that an exhaust valve in the engine was stuck and the 1940s plane, affectionately known as Tweety Bird, was struggling to fly on three cylinders.
"She will not maintain altitude on three cylinders and I saw the beach and I thought I can make it," she said. "I didn't want to land in the water because it is very dangerous, you will write-off the aircraft and it will flip and you have to get out."
As she flew over Nine Mile beach between Redhead and Blacksmiths, Ms Zeederberg said the popular 4WD destination was "covered in campers".
"There were people everywhere," she said. "I started preparing myself to land in the water, but she lasted much longer than I thought and flew for much longer.
"By the time I lost altitude there were no people on the beach. My guardian angel worked overtime that day."
The plane landed safely on Blacksmiths Beach and was towed off the sand by onlookers
Ms Zeederberg, said her husband Brian, also a Tiger Moth enthusiast, made her get back in the cockpit the next weekend.
"It's like getting back on a horse or a bike I suppose," she said. "Luckily for me it was not pilot error so that was a confidence booster."
The emergency landing has not turned the Central Coast pilot off flying or Tiger Moths.
She said there was "something very special" about flying the wood and cloth aircrafts, despite the fact that female Tiger Moth pilots are not common.
"There are a huge amount of female pilots in Australia, we have a lovely society of women," she said.
"But there are only three female Tiger Moth pilots that I know, I am sure there are others but they are not common."
Luskintyre is the home of the Tiger Moth, there are more of the vintage planes on the Hunter Valley airfield than anywhere else in the world.
"I fly almost every weekend," she said. "There is a sense of freedom you get from flying that you don't get from anything else. When I fly now I'm much more aware of identifying landing places."