WADSWORTH — A Litchfield Township man escaped injury after his single-engine plane crashed Thursday near Wadsworth Municipal Airport.
Roger Keene, 73, was flying from Reader-Botsford Airport in Wellington and was making his final approach to Wadsworth Municipal Airport at around 11:45 a.m. That’s when the power went out on his 1980 Rally aircraft.
He was looking for a safe place to land and ended up putting the plane down in the backyard of a Concord Place home near state Route 57.
Keene said he’s lucky to be alive.
He said he was traveling at about 70 mph when he seared off the top of two pine trees behind Dave Kulcsar’s home, which slowed down his descent. The plane dug into the grass and came to rest near a wooden gazebo.
“It helped bring it to a stop,” he said. “If I had hit that building, I would have been quite dead.”
Keene explained that if the two-seater plane had hit the gazebo, the impact would have pushed the engine back into the passenger compartment and “that would have been the end of me.”
Ohio Highway Patrol Lt. Mark Neff, commander of the Medina post, also said it was “very fortunate” the pilot wasn’t injured. The crash occurred about a quarter-mile south of Wadsworth airport, 840 Airport Road.
Keene, a Ford Motor Co. retiree who served in Vietnam, was bringing his plane to Wadsworth airport to store it over the winter.
Ken Bartlett lives in a home he leases on the airport property, which was recently sold to new owners. The owners plan to cease airport operations and use it for agricultural purposes instead, according to Bartlett.
“They informed the pilots who kept planes in the hangar of the decision to close the airport,” Bartlett said. “They told everyone they needed to have their planes off the property.”
Keene was the last to move his plane from the property, Bartlett said. The pilot had previously tried to move it a few weeks ago, but issues with the plane may have caused him to delay those plans, Bartlett said. Bartlett said he didn’t know what kind of issues the plane was having.
Keene took up flying as a hobby about 45 years ago and will probably retire from it now.
Homeowner Kulcsar said he was glad his children weren’t home when the crash occurred .
“My first thought was with the pilot,” Kulcsar said. “Everything else can be replaced. I was thankful (the pilot wasn’t injured).”
He said the fact the pilot was going 70 mph when he hit the trees in his back yard is “unbelievable.”
Kulcsar was at work at Ultragloss body shop in Akron when Wadsworth police called him about the crash.
“This has never happened before to my knowledge,” Robert Patrick, Wadsworth’s director of public service, said of the crash. “The pilot wasn’t injured and that’s the best part of the story. It’s a positive story because of that.”
He said besides the plane being damaged “substantially,” there was no other property damage. There was a nearby soccer field, Muhl Park, but Keene was unable to navigate the plane to that area.
Keene said when making his descent, “you look for the safest place. You don’t have a long time to choose. I tried to go in between the trees.”
He added: “My mind was focused and trying to bring it down as safe as possible. Nothing really prepares you for this experience. It’s a scary situation.
“I was hoping to survive it. I was lucky.”
The Federal Aviation Administration will investigate the accident.
Keene said the plane, which he’s owned for more than 20 years, was totaled and will be sold for salvage and parts.
For now, though, Keene said he just wants to go home, sit down and relax.
Staff writer Scott Mahoney contributed to this report. Contact reporter Bob Finnan at (330) 721-4049 or firstname.lastname@example.org.