FOLEY, Ala. (WKRG/MEDIA GENERAL) — An Alabama pilot is OK after crashing shortly after takeoff Tuesday.
WKRG-TV reported the pilot clipped some trees shortly after takeoff from Foley Municipal Airport, causing his Cessna 421 to crash into another tree and catch fire.
Aubrey Morris, who owns a towing company, first heard a big crash before looking outside to see the fiery wreckage just yards away from his business.
“All of a sudden, I heard a big boom (and) looked out. I thought a tornado hit. And then I saw a plane in the tree,” Morris said.
Morris and other witnesses rushed to the scene while another called 911. The plane quickly caught fire and flames spread as fuel leaked onto the ground. Judging from the impact and the scene, Morris didn’t think the pilot was alive.
“Here I thought, ‘Oh, the poor dude’s gone,” Morris said. “Then, all of a sudden, I saw the door come open a little bit.”
The pilot, Russell Smith, was able to open the cockpit door and stumble out of the plane. Morris and others quickly pulled him to safety.
“(The plane) was on fire and I was in a hurry to get out,” Smith said, noting he tumbled backward out of the cockpit.
After the accident, Smith, visibly shaken, was still coming to grips with what happened. When asked if he thought he was going to die, Smith answered quickly.
“It happened so quick, I didn’t have time to think,” he said. “But, yeah, I thought it was all over with.”
Fortunately, Smith only suffered minor injuries. He sustained some minor cuts and burns to his hands, and he said he was sore and had a headache. He said he didn’t intend to go to the hospital.
Said Smith: “No, I’m going home to take a shower, put some burn ointment on my hands and lie down.
“I thank God I walked away from that mess.”
— Pat Peterson from WKRG contributed to this story.