COLUMBUS, Ind. (WISH) - The man who survived the July 25 private plane crash in Columbus is now out of the hospital and recounting the harrowing experience.
Dennis King sustained second and third degree burns to 14 percent of his body in the crash. He also suffered broken ribs. The pilot, 81-year-old Gerry Clayton, died from his injuries.
King says he and Gerry Clayton were more acquaintances than friends. The two pilots would talk from time to time since they had hangars next to one another.
On the morning of the crash, King says he went to the Columbus airport to work on his own plane. Clayton came over to ask him if he would be willing to go for a ride.
Clayton’s single engine aircraft, which he had built, had had mechanical issues in the past.
In 2011 Clayton needed to make an emergency landing in Illinois because of an engine problem. Two years later, the 81-year-old pilot thought he had the problem fixed. He just needed to conduct some test flights. So he asked King if he wanted to fly with him.
King agreed. It would be his first time in the plane.
THREE MINUTE TEST FLIGHT
King says the plan was to fly around the airport and perform some “touch and go” maneuvers where the pilot lands the plane and then takes off without stopping.
King says the plane climbed without a problem and Clayton was able to level off at the standard altitude. Everything was looking good.
“I was relaxed and enjoying the view,” said King
That feeling didn’t last long. Within three minutes of taking off, King says the engine started making an unusual sound. Something was “slipping” between the engine and propeller.
PLANE GOES DOWN
King watched as Clayton began to frantically work on the plane's propeller switches. The small aircraft was losing power and altitude.
King knew they were going down.
“I looked around, there were houses everywhere … I was certain we wouldn’t survive the impact … I figured it was over," King said.
At 9:33 a.m., the plane crashed into a Columbus home in the 2200 block of Broadmoor Lane. Hiroko Nakao, a native of Japan, was in a bedroom. She said she heard glass breaking and had no idea what happened. She escaped injury.
King says after the impact, he and Clayton were conscious. King said he was amazed they had survived but there was little time to think about that.
“Gasoline started dripping on us," King said. "We (had to) get out of there fast.”
Before he had time to unbuckle his seatbelt, the gasoline ignited. King and Clayton caught on fire. The entire plane started to burn along with the back of the house.
“If I had gone unconscious, I would have burned to death," King said.
King says both men struggled to unbuckle their seatbelts. A sudden adrenaline rush helped King get out and get away from the burning plane. Clayton also escaped.
“I was on fire and no one could get to me,” said King.
With his gasoline soaked clothes burning, King says he started rolling around on the ground in an attempt to put out the flames. His success was fleeting. Each time he extinguished the flames, they would ignite again.
King says someone in the neighborhood came to his aid and was able to hose him down with water.
King spent the next three weeks in the hospital. He suffered burns along his left arm, his back and side. The recovery process will be slow. Because of the burns, King finds it painful to sit down. But he knows he is lucky he can.
“I was certain we wouldn’t survive the crash,” King said.
King thinks hitting the house turned out to be a good thing for both men. He says the house acted like a cushion. It slowed the plane down before final impact with the ground.
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