F’ville pilot survives Falcon Field crash

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UPDATED for print Wednesday, July 2 — A single-engine Piper Lightsport flown by Fayetteville resident John Ritchey crashed on takeoff around 9:20 a.m. June 29 on a paved roadway between Falcon Field and Lake McIntosh in Peachtree City.

Though in serious condition, Ritchey survived the crash that was witnessed by a number of golfers who rushed to the scene.

Ritchey, born in 1958, was identified as the pilot of the Piper Lightsport and was airlifted to Atlanta Medical Center in serious condition, according to Lt. Mark Brown, Peachtree City Police public information officer.

In photo at right, rescuers keep spilling fuel from igniting. The photo was taken by Dr. John Giovanelli, a Peachtree City chiropractor who was playing a round of golf on the nearby Planterra Ridge golf course.

Brown said federal aviation officials were investigating the incident. The crash site was the paved road that separates Falcon Field on the south and the Planterra Ridge golf course and Lake McIntosh to the north.

One of nearly a dozen golfers on the course at nearby Planterra Ridge who responded to the crash was local chiropractor and pilot John Giovanelli.

On the 7th green when the incident occurred, Giovanelli said the Piper banked to the left before dropping behind the trees.

“It appeared he was taking off, then started banking west,” Giovanelli said. “It seemed underpowered and went into a stall. The nose was up and it dropped out of the sky. It seemed not to be able to climb. It was not far above the top of the trees and fell straight down.”

Giovanelli said the golfers arrived at the site of the crash to find Ritchey conscious and in obvious pain but unable to communicate. Giovanelli said Ritchey had blood on his face and shirt.

A police officer arrived and extinguished a small fire in the engine area.

Ritchey was transported by helicopter to Atlanta Medical Center in serious condition, Brown said. Family members indicated on Monday that Ritchey was still listed in serious condition but is expected to survive, Brown said.

A photo taken at 9:45 a.m. by local resident Mohammad Shahheydari shows the aircraft on a stretch of pavement near the entrance to the lake on Peachtree City’s west side.

Shahheydari said he was watching the plane take off and it suddenly went down like a rock. “It was really loud. There were children playing at the lake, but no one on the ground was injured,” he reported.

“It was an awful, awful scene,” said Mr. Shahheydari, known by many as “Mo.”

“The plane crashed right by the playground at Lake McIntosh,” he said. “A bunch of kids were terrified.

“A family of five kids and their parents were at the playground. A couple of kayakers were on the lake. A few golfers were there too. The golfers warned, ‘Don’t get close, it might explode.’ Fuel was spilling. … Half a dozen cars were at the lake,” he said.

A Fayette County marshal closed the road and took those on shore down a dirt road and on to the runway to get them away from the area, he said.

Officials kept the crash site closed to the public while they disarmed a small rocket-propelled parachute device on the aircraft. They then hauled the craft on a wrecker back to Falcon Field. Other than the pilot, who was the only occupant of the plane, no one else was injured.

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UPDATED June 30, 3:30 p.m. — A small private plane went down Sunday morning on a paved road near Lake McIntosh, seriously injuring the pilot, according to a Peachtree City Police Department spokesman and eyewitnesses. He was airlifted out by helicopter for medical treatment.

John Ritchey, born in 1958, of Fayetteville, was identified as the pilot of the Piper Lightsport and was airlifted to Atlanta Medical Center in serious condition, according to Lt. Mark Brown, Peachtree City Police public information officer.

In photo at right, rescuers keep spilling fuel from igniting. The photo was taken by Dr. John Giovanelli, a Peachtree City chiropractor who was playing a round of golf on the nearby Planterra Ridge golf course.

Lt. Brown at the scene said he didn’t know what Fayetteville pilot John Ritchey was attempting to do with the Piper Lightsport, though it appeared to be a low-speed crash.

Federal aviation officials arrived at the scene and are investigating the crash, Brown said Sunday afternoon.

The first to respond to the crash were nearly a dozen golfers from the course at nearby Planterra Ridge. One of those was local chiropractor and pilot John Giovanelli.

Giovanelli said he was on the 7th green when he and others heard the engine sputter. The plane banked to the left then dropped behind the trees, he said.

“It appeared he was taking off, then started banking west,” Giovanelli said. “It seemed underpowered and went into a stall. The nose was up and it dropped out of the sky. It seemed not to be able to climb. It was not far above the top of the trees and fell straight down.”

Giovanelli said he was among a number of golfers who arrived at the crash site, noting that the pilot was conscious but could not communicate and that he had blood on his face and shirt.

A police officer arrived and extinguished a small fire in the engine area, he added.

Giovanelli said he was surprised to see the pilot conscious and moving, though he could not communicate and was in obvious pain.

Ritchey was transported by helicopter to Atlanta Medical Center in serious condition, Brown said. Family members indicated on Monday that Ritchey was still listed on serious condition but is expected to survive, Brown said.

Authorities confirmed Ritchey was the only occupant of the plane. Earlier reports about a second injury were incorrect.

Police said the plane was taking off from Runway 31 at nearby Falcon Field shortly before 9:20 Sunday morning and lost power, resulting in the crash onto the road north of the airport.

A photo taken at 9:45 a.m. by local resident Mohammad Shahheydari shows the aircraft on a stretch of pavement near the entrance to the lake on Peachtree City’s west side.

Mr. Shahheydari said he was watching the plane take off and it suddenly went down like a rock. “It was really loud. There were children playing at the lake, but no one on the ground was injured,” he reported.

Police and fire rescue units were on the scene. Officials were dismantling a nearby fence around the airport to allow people already at the lake to get around the blocked road and leave via a runway.

Below, this photo by local resident Mohammad Shahheydari shows the plan nose down on the road leading into the Lake McIntosh recreation area.

 

“It was an awful, awful scene,” said Mr. Shahheydari, known by many as “Mo.”

“The plane crashed right by the playground at Lake McIntosh,” he said. “A bunch of kids were terrified.

“A family of five kids and their parents were at the playground. A couple of kayakers were on the lake. A few golfers were there too. The golfers warned, ‘Don’t get close, it might explode.’ Fuel was spilling.

“A couple of kayakers were on the lake … half a dozen cars were at the lake,” he said.

A Fayette County marshal closed the road and took those on shore down a dirt road and on to the runway to get them away from the area, he said.

“I saw the plane take off. A couple of seconds later I heard a big boom. It looks like they lost power and nose dived,” Mr. Shahheydari said.

The paramedics were there in a couple of minutes. “It was amazing. They showed up. In the speed of lightning, they were there,” he said.

“They got the doors off [the aircraft] and cut them out,” he said. “A helicopter was there within five minutes.”

Mo said he goes to Lake McIntosh every Sunday morning for a devotional time. He reads his Bible and then goes to church.

Below, a cockpit view of the type of aircraft involved in the Sunday crash. The PiperSport is a two-seater single-engine aircraft introduced in 2010 by Piper Aircraft. It has a baggage area behind the seats that can accommodate up to 40 pounds. It also has a pair of wing lockers that can store up to 88 pounds. It carries up to 30 gallons in a pair of 15-gallon wing tanks.

— Reporting by Ben Nelms, Joyce Beverly and Cal Beverly.