A 30-year-old pilot died a hero Saturday morning after he steered a crashing plane to avoid hitting any homes, saving the lives of several residents in Taylorville, Ill.
Brandon Sparrow of Augusta, Ill. was the only person left on board the small, twin-engine Beechcraft 18 after 12 skydivers aboard the plane jumped to safety moments before the crash, the State Journal-Register reported.
The plane crashed in a backyard just 75 feet wide, leaving Sparrow with little room for error, Mayor Greg Brotherton told the Journal-Register.
"It was either an act of God, or the pilot himself put the plane down in the backyard," Brotherton said. "We should be thankful because that plane could have hit a house and harmed others."
The cause of the crash was not immediately known. Federal Aviation Administration authorities said the cause may not be known for several weeks.
The plane had taken off from the Taylorville airport Saturday morning for a jump that was part of a Mid-America Sport Parachute Club skydiving event.
Jerry Dobyns was relaxing on his bed watching TV when the plane came hurtling to the ground in his backyard. His daughter, Rhonda Tester, was in the yard minutes before the crash.
"If it was another 10 feet closer, it could have killed both of us," Dobyns told the Journal-Register.
The crash left a 20- to 30-foot-wide hole in Dobyns' backyard.
Dobyns' neighbor, Gloria Johnson, said that she didn't see an explosion or fire when the plane hit the ground.
Johnson said that authorities responding to the scene believed that the pilot knew something was wrong and dumped the plane's fuel prior to the crash.
"[I] just heard this great big sound, you know, like an airplane backfiring,'' Johnson said. "It went boom and it just went down over there next door....There were plane parts everywhere, pieces all up and down Rich Street.''
Several houses were evacuated in order to remove the shattered plane from the backyard. Many residents were told that they could not return to their homes until Sunday.
Sparrow was an avid aviation enthusiast who attended Western Illinois University and Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, Ill., KDSK-TV reported.
He fell into a coma six years ago after he was hit by a truck while bicycling. But he eventually recovered and returned to the cockpit.
An autopsy will be conducted on Monday in Bloomington, Ill.
With Wire News Services