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PILOT STEERS CLEAR OF HOUSES DURING FATAL CRASH LANDING\ HAD THE PILOT CRASHED FARTHER EAST, THE PLANE WOULD HAVE STRUCK SUNBATHERS ON MYRTLE BEACH. ALL FOUR PEOPLE ABOARD THE PLANE WERE KILLED.
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PILOT STEERS CLEAR OF HOUSES DURING FATAL CRASH LANDING\ HAD THE PILOT CRASHED FARTHER EAST, THE PLANE WOULD HAVE STRUCK SUNBATHERS ON MYRTLE BEACH. ALL FOUR PEOPLE ABOARD THE PLANE WERE KILLED.

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A plane crash Sunday in a park at Ocean Creek Resort killed all four passengers aboard and seriously injured a person on the ground who was walking his dog.

Identification of the victims is being withheld pending notification of relatives.The pilot of a Piper Aerostar twin engine aircraft fueled up at Grand Strand Airport, then, while heading toward Barefoot Landing, began having problems with the right engine, said Lt. Myron Creel of the Horry County, S.C., Police Department.

The pilot called in a distress signal and was returning to land about 2:30 p.m. Sunday. But seeing that he wouldn't make it back to the airport, the pilot attempted to land in one of the few clearings in the North Myrtle Beach area, avoiding homes, restaurants, hotels and retail businesses.

``I think he saved a lot of peoples' lives when he came back in this way,' said Gloria McNevin, a vacationer from Boston. ``I think the pilot was the hero.'

Had the pilot crashed farther east, the plane would have struck sunbathers on the beach. Had he crashed north, west or south, he would have crashed into homes.

With a cracking voice and a look of shock, McNevin, standing in her swimsuit, stared in awe at the plane wreckage, which looked like nothing more than a crumpled and burned child's toy. She had been watching the plane from the beach after she heard the bizarre noise it was making.

``I saw the (plane) go in back of a building and I could see the landing gear, and then he just went down,' she said. ``And then it just exploded. It took less than two minutes, if that long. You could see the impact of smoke, and as you walked back from the beach, you could see this big ball of fire. It was the most horrible thing I've ever seen in my life.'

Looking at the tarps covering the four bodies, Ron Couch slowly approached the macabre scene. He inquired of some of the scores of bystanders of any information on the accident. When none was available, he paced a little. Then he started telling what he saw.

Couch, his wife, son, daughter-in-law and grandson were enjoying a leisurely stroll to the beach on the sunny afternoon. ``It's something you see in a movie and never dream could happen,' he said. ``We were close enough we could feel it.'

Couch's family, about 75 feet from the crash, ducked for cover as soon as they realized what was happening, Couch said.

``I'm thinking my grandson is going to get hit by some of that debris,' he said. ``After the explosion, it was just like shrapnel flying all over the place.'

On their first day of vacation from Toledo, Ohio, the Couches nearly were hit by a door from the plane and were blasted with heat. Ron's son, Jeff Couch and another man ran to the man who had been struck by the plane and threw a blanket on him, patting down the flames that engulfed him.

The man, who was out walking his dog, was taken to Grand Stand Regional Medical Center and then transported to Medical University of South Carolina at Charleston. The dog suffered minor burns and was in fair condition, Creel said.

Creel said the plane is believed to be from out of state. The investigation is ongoing.

Neil Gerald, 14, said he knew there was something not quite right when he heard the sputtering of the plane pass over his house in Briarcliff Acres.

``I heard the plane coming really low,' he said. ``I thought it was just doing something crazy.'

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