Local News

Four walk away from plane crash in Cumberland County

Posted June 14, 2011 11:51 a.m. EDT
Updated June 14, 2011 10:25 p.m. EDT

— A pilot and his three grandsons suffered only minor injuries Tuesday when their single-engine plane crashed into some woods off an airstrip in northern Cumberland County, authorities said.

The plane crash occurred at about 10:30 a.m. in the woods surrounding Flyers Airpark, a grass runway off East Reeves Bridge Road and Palestine Road, about 4 miles from Linden, authorities said.

Joe Guyton, 75, said he wanted to take his 14-, 11- and 10-year-old grandsons for a sightseeing tour of the countryside, but the engine of his Grumman AA-5A Cheetah lost power during takeoff.

"It was either drive straight into the trees or go up over them," Guyton said. "So, I went over them, and the engine just quit with me. It didn't stop completely, but it just lost power."

Tim Mitchell, deputy director of Cumberland County Emergency Services, said Guyton tried to circle back to land but couldn't make it.

"(He) ended up hitting the trees and kind of just dropped straight into the woods," Mitchell said.

Guyton described the impact as similar to "hitting the water when you are high diving." 

Guyton and the boys were able to walk out of the woods and back to his home, where they reported the crash.

"I am in a plane, and our plane crashed," a caller told a 911 dispatcher on Tuesday. 

Later, the caller described the scene.  

"We are all four outside. We are walking through the woods. The woods is on fire," the caller said. 

Dan Young, a neighbor and fellow pilot, headed into the woods after hearing the crash.

"Joe, I think he was in maybe a little bit of shock. Who wouldn't be?" Young said. "(The boys) didn't appear to be hurt in any way. I'm sure they were shook up."

The crash charred a portion of the woods, and firefighters spent some time spraying the area to keep the fire from spreading.

The Federal Aviation Administration was sending a team of investigators to Linden to try to determine the cause of the crash.

Guyton and his grandsons were treated at Cape Fear Valley Medical Center for minor injuries and released. One of the boys received stitches in his lip.

"They were very lucky. The plane is completely destroyed," Mitchell said.

Flyers Airpark is a rural enclave where most residents are pilots. Many had nothing but praise for Guyton, calling him cautious and meticulous.

"He's an excellent pilot. He's flown for many, many years," neighbor Larry Coppernoll said, adding that he wasn't surprised that Guyton and his grandsons were able to walk away from the crash.

"Most small general aviation accidents are not life-threatening," Coppernoll said, comparing a single-engine plane crash to a car fender-bender. "The people who get killed (in small plane crashes) are in bad weather, but this is good weather."

Fellow pilot and friend Gene Byrd credits Guyton's quick thinking. 

"He knew what he was doing. He knew he was in trouble," Byrd said. 

Despite the crash, Guyton said he will fly again. 

"I am not scared of an aircraft," he said.