A solo pilot is in stable condition after crashing short of the runway at Friedman Memorial Airport Sunday just before 1 p.m.
Frank H. Porter, 60, from Cleveland, Ohio, was attempting to land at the Hailey airport at the time of the crash, said Blaine County Sheriff Walt Femling. Porter was flying a Mooney single-engine aircraft, which sustained severe damage.
The crash caused a small fuel leak, but no fire ensued, thanks in part to an eyewitness who helped Porter escape from the wreckage and shut down the engine.
"I first heard the pilot on the approach coming from the south," said Richard Finley, a former Navy fighter pilot and aircraft mishap investigator who was getting ready to take off in a Cessna 340. "I looked up and saw (the plane) when he added the power and initiated an immediate turn. At first I thought there was an airplane coming out of the north. The poor guy hit a planet."
Finley said he estimated that Porter was flying between 150 and 200 feet, three or four wingspans over the new Sun Valley Aviation parking lot, on the west side of the airport. After making a sharp left turn, the plane crashed into the ground southeast of the airport.
The aircraft, registered to LPR LLC, a flight club in Willoughby, Ohio, had up to date certifications for airworthiness and proper insurance, said Jim Struhsaker, a National Transportation Safety Board investigator who is looking into the accident. The plane was being recovered Tuesday and taken to Boise, where NTSB engineers and mechanics were scheduled to study the plane.
"I don't know what happened yet. We're pretty early (in the investigation)," Struhsaker said, explaining that his FAA colleagues were interviewing Porter Tuesday as he recovered at the hospital. "There was just one person on board. He had recently done (refresher) training. He was taking a swing through the West and just happened to stop by to see friends."
Finley said he informed personnel at Sun Valley Aviation about the crash and caught up to two of his passengers who were already making their way to the crash site to render aid to the pilot.
"I opened the door and he looked at me," Finley said. "I started getting his bags out of the way. He was coherent but dazed ... facial injuries for sure. He was unstrapped by then."
Finley said he was concerned about the plane and whether Porter had any kind of spinal injury.
"He got out on his own after I got things out of his way," Finley said. "I asked him to sit down, which he did. I was concerned about shock."
A physician then arrived to look after Porter until emergency workers arrived to transport him to St. Luke's Wood River Medical Center.
"I had gone and checked the switches, the master switch and the magnetos and rocker switches," Finley said.
With the plane shut down, the lingering question for Finley was why Porter decided to initiate the last minute turn away from the airport before he lost loft and crashed. Struhsaker said he hoped to learn more as Porter's condition improved.
Finley said he was glad to hear Porter's condition was improving. He returned home to Bend, Ore., to learn that a close friend was killed when he crashed his aerobatics plane at an air show in Madras, Ore., over the weekend.