Pilot dies in crash

Published 12:00 am Saturday, September 29, 2007

WORTHINGTON, Ky. — The pilot of a small plane died Sunday after crashing into the Ohio River near the Ashland Regional Airport in Worthington, Ky.

Authorities were not releasing the name of the victim, but witnesses at the scene identified the plane as a Grumman 400 fixed wing airplane that belonged to an 81-year-old Kentucky man.

Elliott Gollihue, spokesman for the Kentucky State Police, said the crash occurred about 3 p.m.

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Several witnesses recognized the plane and said it belongs to Bill Stevens, 81, of Grayson, Ky., who flies there frequently.

The small-engine plane took off from the airport in Worthington, but had mechanical difficulty soon after.

“We got a call from Tri-State Airport in Kenova (W.Va.) that monitors radio traffic regarding a single-engine plane with mechanical difficulty,” Gollihue said. “The plane did make a trip back into the (Worthington) airport and took off and then headed back to the airport and took off again and was attempting to come back again when it crashed.”

The plane was submerged 20 feet from the riverbank.

“I was standing in a friend’s driveway a few doors down getting ready to leave on my motorcycle when I heard a loud crunching sound and at first I didn’t know what it was,” said David Prichard, of Rush, Ky. “Then this guy came walking over and said, ‘This plane had crashed in the river.’”

Prichard said the plane was upside down in the water, sinking slowly.

“I couldn’t see the cockpit,” said Prichard, who said he knows Stevens. He indicated Stevens had been having mechanical trouble with the Grumman 400 recently.

One man who was boating in the water dived out of his boat and tried to rescue the pilot, but was unable to get the canopy doors open, Prichard said.

Along with the KSP, the fire departments from Worthington and Wurtland responded to the crash, as did a dive team from the Ashland Fire Department.

The Ironton Fire Department also responded with a rescue boat at the beginning of the effort. The Greenup County Sheriff’s Office, Greenup County Coroner and EMS were also involved in the effort, as was a unit from the U.S. Coast Guard’s West Virginia office. Federal Aviation Administration officials from Louisville were en route to the scene as of 5 p.m.

By 5:30 p.m., the American Red Cross had set up a relief center at a sheltered picnic site along the river overlooking the crash site.

“We were asked to come and provide food and drink,” Red Cross worker Duayne King said.

Several dozen people stood along the shore and watched the recovery effort.