CHARLESTOWN, N.H. — A Vermont pilot was able to swim close to shore Wednesday morning after crashing his single-engine plane into high voltage power lines crossing the Connecticut River between Charlestown and Rockingham, Vt.
The pilot, George Tucker, 27, of Ludlow, had taken off that morning from Hartness State Airport in North Springfield, Vt., but soon reported engine troubles, according to Charlestown Police.
Charlestown Police Sgt. Michelle Dunning, who said the pilot told her he had encountered engine trouble shortly before the crash.
As the man swam closer to the shore, emergency responders threw him a rope, and later got into the river with him and put him on a backboard, according to Deputy Fire Chief Shawn O’Hearne. He said the pilot was about 25 feet from shore and struggling.
Tucker was flying a bright yellow Piper Cub single-engine plane. He was taken to Springfield Hospital by Charlestown ambulance, although Charlestown Fire Chief Mark LaFlam said he expected he would have be transported to Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center.
LaFlam, who was the first firefighter on the scene, said the pilot had no obvious external injuries. LaFlam said that Dunning jumped into the river to help the pilot, who appeared to have spinal injuries. He had been able to free himself from his plane, LaFlam said.
The crash ripped out three high voltage transmission lines that cross the Connecticut River from Vermont to New Hampshire. National Grid workers disconnected the lines quickly, and were able to restore power to areas cut off by the crash.
While no one apparently witnessed the crash, Vermont resident Wayne Johnson, who lives on the Connecticut River in Rockingham, saw Tucker swimming to shore, and watched as rescue people met him in the river, offered him aid, and later carried him up the bank to an ambulance.
Johnson said it isn’t the first airplane crash at the site of the high voltage transmission lines across the river. He said about 30 years ago, a Keene, N.H., doctor, his daughter and the daughter’s friend all died when the doctor’s plane hit the transmission lines.
No one at the scene could remember whether the high voltage transmission lines had any orange warning balls on the lines, and even National Grid utility workers who were at the scene said they didn’t know if there were any, but that after the 1986 fatal crash, they expected there would have been.
Johnson, the Vermont neighbor, said there were no orange balls on the power lines.
A bright yellow wing from the plane was clearly visible, and Johnson said it appeared the wing and tail were wedged into the river bottom since the plane hadn’t moved since the crash shortly after 10 a.m. Both Johnson and LaFlam said the river was relatively shallow in that area, about 8 to 10 feet deep. The river has silted in and is getting “shallower and shallower” in the words of the deputy fire chief.
LaFlam said the 911 call came from a man in Charlestown, although that person did not see the actual crash. He said that the town and state were waiting for the National Transportation Safety Board representatives before attempting to remove the plane from the river.
New Hampshire officials from both the Marine Patrol and Environmental Services were on the scene, and LaFlam said there was no evidence of leakage of petroleum products from the plane.