A group of people fishing in a York County pond on Saturday caught sight of something big, but it wasn’t in the water. It was in the sky.
Six people working their reels in a rural pasture near Benfield and McFarland roads near York around 11 a.m. saw a small plane fly over their heads, its engine sputtering, as it went down in an open field, some seven miles short of its intended destination at the Rock Hill/York County Airport.
As it came down, the plane struck a barbed-wire fence and uprooted 50 yards of fencing, then skidded for about 100 yards through a cow pasture until it came to a stop.
The four-seat passenger plane had lost fuel pressure and was no longer getting fuel into the engine, said Rock Hill’s Ron Machado. Feeling the plane go down, he said, was not that frightening. He’d flown many times in the Air Force and had traveled often with the pilot, his daughter’s father-in-law. Machado would sit alongside him at the plane’s controls.
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“We’re trained (in the Air Force) what to do in an emergency, so we were doing what had to be done to keep the engine going,” Machado said. “We were really kind of busy and not thinking about the potential for injuries until we hit the ground and bounced the first time. Then I was kind of nervous.”
The plane, a Ryan Navion A fixed-wing aircraft, was carrying three people from the Triple Tree Aerodrome in Woodruff, which was hosting a fly-in last weekend. The pilot and his friend had flown in from Tennessee to pick up Machado the day before, and the three were flying the local man home when they started having engine trouble. Machado said the landing gear couldn’t properly extend with the engine out and were “sheared off” when the plane touched down.
The men were not seriously hurt in what officials described as a “hard landing,” and when emergency responders reached the scene, they reportedly found the pilot on the phone with the National Transportation Safety Board. Of the three, Machado was the only one who needed to be checked out by EMS.
“I banged my head really hard and then just sat there dazed for a minute. And I had a cut on my eye from where I hit it,” he said. “The EMT guy said I should probably get to a doctor, because they were concerned I had a concussion.”
A trip in the ambulance gave him a clean bill of health, and he left with only some stitches above his eye.
The Navion was a total loss after the impact, with the propeller badly damaged and the engine separated from the cockpit. It was transported by flatbed truck to a hangar at the airport, and the pilot had to get a ride back to Tennessee.
It was the end of the road for an older-model plane. According to the FAA registry, the craft was manufactured in 1949, but Machado said it had only recently been completely refurbished and was air-worthy. The crash hasn’t deterred Machado from wanting to fly with his friend again, who he said did everything a pilot is supposed to do in such a situation.
“I did suggest he get one with two engines next time,” he said, “but I’m not sure his wife is going to let him fly again.”