2 Killed in Plane Crash Near Rock Hill Airport -
Aircraft Narrowly Misses
By Toya Graham (803-329-4062, firstname.lastname@example.org) & Aaron Summer
Herald, Rock Hill SC.
Herald reporter Andrew Dys & Assistant City Editor Jason Cato contributed to this report.
July 24, 2005 - Two Ohio men died Sunday when their white, single-engine Beechcraft airplane crashed in a subdivision off Rawlinson Road, nearly one mile from the Rock Hill/York County Airport, officials said.
Eric Anthony "Ted" Johnson, 43, formerly of Rock Hill, of 1611 Evinrude Ave., in Columbus, Ohio, died from head and neck injuries, said York County Deputy Coroner Ev Amick. Johnson, who planned to attend this week's 25th reunion of his Northwestern High School class, died at the scene. He was a lawyer.
In addition, William Coulman, 49, of 1509 Briarmeadow Drive in Worthington, Ohio, died of head and chest injuries, Amick said. Coulman was a dentist.
Matt Sullivan, also of Columbus, was injured and airlifted to Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte, where he remained in critical condition Sunday night, according to a hospital spokeswoman. The National Transportation Safety Board is expected to arrive this morning and will continue to investigate the accident with the Federal Aviation Administration.
The plane came to rest within inches of a swimming pool clubhouse in the Ridge Pointe subdivision. Witnesses called Johnson, the pilot, a hero for guiding the plane away from nearby swimmers.
Johnson was flying to Rock Hill to spend time with his parents and sister before Friday's reunion, according Teresa Graham, a classmate. Coulman and Sullivan planned to drop off Johnson, according to a friend of Johnson's.
Coulman recently purchased the Beechcraft V35B, Amick said.
The three departed from Ohio State University Airport on Sunday morning, said Arlene Murray, a Federal Aviation Administration spokesperson from New York.
Around 11 a.m., Tina Partyka and her 6-year-old son, Brandon, were at a swimming pool off Rawlinson Road when the plane circled overhead. About five adults and three children were enjoying the pool, which is shared by residents of the Mabry Park and Reflection Park subdivisions.
A Rock Hill firefighter looks over the wreckage of a small plane
crash in the Ridge Pointe subdivision off Rawlinson Road on
Sunday morning. The plane came within inches of hitting
a gable on the subdivision's clubhouse, shown at left.
Photo Credit - Tracy Smith-Kimball - The Herald, Rock Hill SC
"He was close," said Partyka, whose eyes pooled with tears. "We all got out of the pool.
"He actually went over our pool, and he made a left turn, and when he made the left, the engine went out," Partyka said. "He started going nose-down."
The plane turned left toward Ridge Pointe subdivision, which is located just across Rawlinson Road from the pool. Fifteen-year-old Jerricka Fetherson saw the plane approaching as she was sitting on her front porch. She saw the plane take out a stop sign and two newly planted young trees seconds before crashing to the ground.
"As it was coming closer and closer, it was getting lower, and then it crashed," Jerricka said. "When it hit, it turned a half circle."
Jerricka's 17-year-old brother, Maurice Burris, came outside just after the plane hit the stop sign. His first instinct was to help. The siblings ran to the plane, which crashed across the street from their home.
The plane crashed nearly 50 yards from the two-story home of Tom and Pat Thompson, both of whom ran to the plane.
"The plane was in distress," said Tom Thompson, a former Navy flight instructor. "The plane was cutting in and out. It started and then we heard nothing."
For some, time froze.
"Then we heard a boom," Pat Thompson said.
Across the street, Partyka heard what she could not see.
"All of a sudden, I heard a big crash like thunder," said Partyka, who added some swimmers ran barefoot to the accident scene.
Officials at the Rock Hill airport said no call for help was received. A line technician for SkyTech Inc., which runs the airport for Rock Hill, was working outside, and another employee monitored computers and flights inside.
"No one heard any distress calls or anything else," said Mike Fitzgerald, SkyTech's executive vice president of sales and marketing. "There was no mayday call."
The plane was not registered with the airport to fly under instrument flight rules, which would require radio contact between the plane and airport.
Fitzgerald said the plane would have been flying under visual flight rules, which are used in good weather, such as Sunday's. Visual flight rules do not require alerting an airport of an impending landing, he said. Under visual flight rules, a pilot does not have to file a flight plan with the FAA.
On Sunday morning, the plane stopped within inches of the pool house at Ridge Pointe. When Jerricka, Burris and the Thompsons ran to the plane, they found three men inside.
Eric Johnson, the pilot, was sitting hunched in the left front seat while William Coulman, the plane's owner, sat in the right front seat. Matt Sullivan sat behind Johnson and Coulman.
Maurice said he attempted to talk with Coulman, who was trying to get out of the plane but was pinned in. The four neighborhood residents tried to offer help before the arrival of multiple emergency agencies, including the Rock Hill Fire Department, Rock Hill Police Department, Rock Hill Hometown Security Office, York County Office of Emergency Management, York County Forensic Unit and Piedmont Medical Center Emergency Medical Services.
Pat Thompson said she hears planes flying over her home frequently. But something was different Sunday morning, she said.
"This plane caught my attention because it was so low and so loud," Thompson said.
By 2 p.m. Sunday, a lone propeller lay near the back of the plane. A single, black piece of luggage, bearing the name Eric A. Johnson, rested near the right side of the plane. To the left, a black bag with golf clubs lay on a huge mound of brown dirt.
Some neighbors in Mabry Park, Reflection Park and Ridge Pointe said Johnson died with honor.
"I think the pilot died a hero," said Toni Brown, Jerricka's mother. "You can tell he was trying not to hurt anybody. He was circling over the pool at Reflection Park, and there were people in there."
"He saw the people, the houses," Partyka said. "You could tell he was looking for a clear place to land. He kept trying to keep the plane up."