COLUMBUS, Ind. — A small, single-engine private plane crashed at 9:33 a.m. today and struck a house at 2223 Broadmoor Lane on the north side of the city, where the house caught fire, police said.
The pilot was identified as Gerald H. Clayton, 81, of Columbus. His passenger was identified as Dennis King, 60, and also from Columbus, said Lt. Matt Myers, spokesperson for the Columbus police and fire departments.
Clayton suffered severe burns and was transferred by LifeLine helicopter to Wishard Hospital in Indianapolis. King was taken by ambulance to Wishard, Myers said. Both were listed in serious condition at mid-afternoon.
Hiroko Nakao was home doing laundry at about 9:30 a.m. when the deafening sound and rumble at the back of her one-story home made her stop in her tracks.
A second loud noise, a breaking window, made her run from the house in northern Columbus.
After realizing that a plane had crashed into and set aflame the house, Nakao ran to a neighbor, who called 911 — athough dispatchers said they already had received multiple calls.
Nakao, 51, then called her husband, Tadashi Nakao, 53, who was at work at Toyota Tsusho in Woodside Industrial Park, where he serves as branch manager.
Tadashi Nakao initially thought his wife was joking, but quickly realized the severity of the situation and rushed home.
He said he was worried about his wife as he was driving home, and when he pulled up near the crash site, which had been blocked off by authorities, he told police officers that his house was on fire and then rushed to his wife.
"The house is damaged," Tadashi Nakao said, "but she's OK."
The couple, which was renting the house and has lived in Columbus for four years, spoke with soft voices and still seemed to be dazed by the incident as television crews with cameras stood around them. They said they did not know where they would stay tonight. They have no family in the U.S.
Hiroko Nakao estimated she was only about 20 feet from where the plane crashed and saw the smoke and flames as she fled.
Scott Grant, who owns the home with his wife, Liz, said he could describe his reaction with only one word: shocked.
William Melvin, 71, who lives at 2153 Fairfax, about a quarter-block away, said: "We heard a boom in the air and another boom on the ground. I stepped out my front door to see if there was any damage on the street."
Melvin said the sound made him think that someone may have been driving a trailer that had dropped a load on the street.
"It was loud enough that it startled me, and I knew that something was going on," he said.
"You're bound to notice something like an airplane dropping into the neighborhood," Melvin said.
Melvin assisted the passenger, later identified as King, who was trapped behind a wooden fence.
Melvin said it appeared that he either fell out of or blew out of the plane, discovering him about 20 feet from the wreckage.
"I pulled up a wooden fence section, about an 8-foot section, and tore it off the supports — a white picket fence — to free the man so he could exit that yard to the back," said Melvin, who has lived in the Broadmoor subdivision for six years.
By that time, Melvin said there were two or three other neighbors assisting the airplane passenger.
"He was unaware how badly burned his back was," Melvin said of King.
His injuries consisted of cuts to his face, where blood streamed down, with burns covering about a third of his back, Melvin said. King's pants had been on fire, he said.
Melvin said people on Broadmoor Lane helped the pilot by smothering the flames on his clothes and body.
When he first got to the scene, Melvin said it seemed the plane and a portion of the house that were hit were slightly burning.
"That's when I discovered the passenger," Melvin said.
The pilot and passenger were both conscious immediately after the crash, Melvin said.
"The pilot jumped out of the flaming wreckage, but I couldn't help because I couldn't reach him. He was on fire and the fire was between him and me," he said.
The passenger was given wet towels to cover the burns on his back, Melvin said.
A woman near the crash scene told Columbus police that she could hear the plane's engine cutting out. The plane was heading east at the time of the crash, witnesses said.
Jason Hyer, another eyewitness, said he could see the plane losing altitude rapidly, and suspected it was going to crash.
"I saw the plane heading west to east and it sounded like the engine and propellers were screaming loud. The flight orientation was level but the plane was dropping like a rock," said Hyer, a construction worker.
"He was way too far from the airport runway to be as low as he was. He went straight into the ground and into the house. Then, there was a giant puff of smoke," said Hyer, who had taken flying lessons as a teen.
Jan Hoffman-Perry, a neighbor, was at work at The Republic when notified by a co-worker that a crash and fire had occurred in her neighborhood. She immediately drove home.
After arriving, she could see that a two-story house close to the crash site had suffered some damage from the fire.
"The siding on one house is melting," Hoffman-Perry said about 10:30 a.m., when the fire seemed to be contained by firefighters.
A large portion of the roof collapsed at the house that was hit, said Hoffman-Perry, who viewed the crash scene from a block away.
"The back of the house is gone, but the front is pretty much intact," she said.
Hoffman-Perry stayed for about an hour, talking with other homeowners she has gotten to know in the subdivision over the past six years.
"They were in shock. A couple of them said it was definitely too close to home."
Her home was far enough away to have not been damaged.
"We were just checking to make sure everybody was OK," she said. "The community was coming together, which was nice."
The small passenger plane that crashed was described by Columbus Fire Chief Dave Allmon as a two- or four-seat craft. He said it clipped the rear of the house and hit a screened-in porch area, coming to rest near the garage.
The one-story, ranch-style house has three bedrooms and covers close to 2,000 square feet, according to real estate records online.
Anna Balazy, who lives a block away on Keystone Place, said she heard a plane fly low over her house as she was getting ready to leave for work.
"I heard a little boom sound," said Balazy, who works at Cummins.
She looked outside but didn't immediately see any smoke. She left for work in her car, and then saw police and fire vehicles rushing to the scene.