It was shortly after takeoff Thursday from an airstrip in Cheyenne, Wyoming that the young pilot, Isaiah Cooper, 16, encountered turbulence.
His North American Grumman Cheetah struggled to climb as small, intense and dangerous downdrafts buffeted the four-seater prop plane.
Isaiah remained calm while his instructor, Roger Kahn, assisted and they co-piloted the plane safely to the ground, careful to avoid a construction crew, two schools, an apartment complex and a McDonald's.
"It was scary," Isaiah said. "I thought I was in a movie."
Isaiah was reached via Skype Thursday night in a motel room in Cheyenne where he and Kahn, both uninjured from their forced landing, awaited a backup plane so they could continue their cross-country odyssey.
They're using this flight to prepare Isaiah for an even bigger one when he turns 18. Isaiah hopes to break a Guinness World Record for being the youngest person to fly solo around the globe. The current record holder did it at age 19 in 2014, according to the Guinness World Records.
Isaiah recounted the harrowing moments after takeoff before noon on the fifth leg of a weeklong hopscotch across the continent. He took off from his hometown in Compton on Tuesday.
He and his instructor thought they would have an uneventful flight as they readied for takeoff from Cheyenne Regional Airport on their way to Omaha, Nebraska.
But then weather moved in.
They hit the ground hard. They lost their landing gear. The plane slid and struck a street sign. Miraculously nobody was hurt.
After getting clear of the plane, Isaiah called three people — Robin Petgrave, the executive director of the flight school, Tomorrow's Aeronautical Museum, his pastor, and his mother.
"It's pretty insane," Petgrave said. "He kept his composure. He took a leadership role."
His mother, Natalia Knox, expected a call. She instructed him to call her every time he landed along the route.
"He told me that the plane crashed and I asked him if he was OK," she said. "He was nervous and scared, a little shaken. He wasn't hurt.
"I'm still nervous, but I'm proud of him."
Isaiah said he had to make sure he called his mother last.
"Out of all three, I knew she was the one who was most likely going to freak out," he said. "But she didn't."
Investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board were probing the crash. A backup plane was expected to be flown out early Friday so Isaiah could continue his journey.