CORYDON, Ind. (WDRB) — The passenger in an ultralight plane that crashed into a tree Friday describes the four-hour wait for a rescue from 60 feet in the air. He also shares home video taken inside the cockpit, after he and the pilot prayed and resisted any movement that could dislodge the plane.
Steve Yahraus of Corydon, Ind., told WDRB News that he and pilot Jim Cutler of Winslow, Ind., realized the plane’s metal frame was hooked on a broken, single branch on the tree and tried to be patient as first responders plotted their rescue.
The crash occurred just after 5 p.m. Friday near the airport at French Lick, Ind. Yahraus said he was considering buying the plane from Cutler, hence the flight to learn more about it.
“Well, here we are, about 60 feet above the ground. We’ve got a good view of the sky. The sunset’s starting in here. You can see about 10-12 feet to the top of the tree,” Yahraus said during smart phone video he shot in the cockpit, as he and Cutler sat, strapped in their seats, resting on their sides, awaiting rescue.
Cutler lost altitude just before landing. Yahraus described the last five or six seconds of the flight.
“He says, ‘We’re going in.’ And he shut the power off. We probably stiffened our legs a little to bit to brace and, ‘shloop’; there it was just that quick,” Yahraus said.
“I had my sunglasses on. Jim had eyeglasses on. They were still on our faces when we come to a rest. Nothing came out of our pockets. There’s no scratches on us whatsoever.”
The plane’s frame snagged upon one sturdy, broken branch of a tree. That helped hold it in place.
“So we prayed, thanked the good Lord for our safe landing in top of the tree, and, ‘Lord, keep us there until we get help.’ That’s all we could say. ‘Lord, you kept us alive to this point, that’s a miracle, I have no doubt you’ll keep us through this whole ordeal.’ And he did.”
Seatbelts held Cutler and Yahraus in place, but at a sixty degree angle. Their legs fell asleep as they looked out at the trees — and heard, but could not see rescuers below. They could move, but only very gingerly, for fear of dislodging the plane.
“I knew it couldn’t come off the hook, I knew that. But I didn’t know if something was going to break, if the tree was going to crack or the branch was going to crack,” Yahraus said.
“The plane weighed close to 900 pounds with us in it, two people and the plane itself. So, we’re 900 pounds on a stick of wood, stuck up in a tree.”
Crews eventually secured the plane with ropes, then used an Orange County REMC bucket truck to bring them back to the ground, one at a time.
Yahraus was lowered to the ground first. He was eager to call his wife Elsie, who had been waiting on the ground. She had come to the airport expecting her husband to enjoy a short flight about a prospective purchase — and not a treetop rescue.
Cutler did not return a phone message.
The FAA is investigating the incident. The plane was still in the tree as of late Saturday.