Ironton native witnesses plane crash

Published 11:21 am Monday, August 16, 2010

Imagine this scenario: You take your family to Put-In-Bay, an island on massive Lake Erie, to celebrate a milestone in your daughter’s life. While on a ferry ride from the island back to the mainland, a small plane crashes into the water just 150 feet from where you stand. You watch helplessly, listening to the hair-raising cries of a woman in the water who cannot swim.

Time stands still.

You see four people emerge from the plane. Are there more passengers still inside? You don’t know.

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Life preservers are now being tossed from the ferry to rescue the crash victims. At least one of them, a 20-something female, is in shock, holding onto the lone wing of the plane that has yet to submerge. She’s the one who cannot swim. You consider jumping in but realize that would just create more problems.

Shortly, in less than a minute, the plane disappears into the bay and four stunned people attempt to make their way to the ferry.

Welcome to last Friday, Aug. 13, from the viewpoint of Ironton native and present Chillicothe resident Gary Crabtree.

Crabtree and his wife, Mandy, took their daughter, Sammie Crabtree, and her grandmother, Janice Bell, to Put-In-Bay in observance of Sammie’s 21st birthday.

This is sure to be a birthday she will never forget.

“Mandy and I saw the plane coming in,” Crabtree recalled, noting that he initially thought it was a sea plane, which is capable of landing on water. “But then we realized it couldn’t be because it didn’t have any floats.”

Then he noticed that he didn’t hear an engine running.

“It just kept getting lower and lower and lower. Then it hit and crumbled like Reynold’s Wrap. It was like everything was moving in slow motion.”

Crabtree said that in retrospect he could tell the pilot was experienced by how and where he landed the plane.

“He knew what he was doing. He came in with the nose down and then at the last second he pulled it up. That made the back end hit the water first, which slammed the front end straight down. They probably didn’t go 20 feet on top of the water once they hit.

“If he’d have come any closer the plane would have hit us on the ferry, but I understand why he landed where he did. If they weren’t where the ferry was they probably would have drowned.”

Crabtree said he and the other passengers on the ferry were emotionally stunned.

“I couldn’t believe it; I just couldn’t believe it,” he said, adding that he also couldn’t imagine what was going through the minds of the crash victims at the time.

“On top of everything else, they probably thought the ferry was going to run over them.”

In his own mind, Crabtree said he felt helpless as he watched the ordeal play out from the ferry.

“It’s aggravating that you can’t help them right this minute,” he said. “Human nature is that you want to help people in those situations even though you don’t know them. You fear for their lives.”

According to a Put-In-Bay area report by the Norwalk Reflector, the plane was a 1977 Cessna T210M and the pilot and three passengers received only minor injuries from the crash.

“It’s amazing nobody was hurt,” Crabtree said.

As for Sammie’s memorable 21st birthday, Crabtree said she made an instant decision. “She said she will never get on a plane on Friday the 13th.”

To watch an amateur video of the crash, go to and type “plane crash at Put-In-Bay” into the search box.