INDIANAPOLIS – A small plane narrowly missed homes as it crashed in a subdivision's retention pond Monday, killing the pilot, but residents rescued the three passengers as the aircraft filled with water.
The residents pulled out all four people in the single-engine plane, but the pilot, Indianapolis oral surgeon Robert Edesess, died at a hospital. He and two family members aboard were survivors of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.
The rescuers "jumped in and got them out of the plane and dragged them over to the side," said Gene Konzen, chief of the Wayne Township Fire Department. "If it wouldn't have been for them, I don't think any of them would have made it."
Elizabeth Isham Corey of the Federal Aviation Administration said the Edesess' plane had just taken off Monday from the Eagle Creek Airport on the city's northwest side en route to Hilton Head Island, S.C., when it reportedly turned around and crashed into the pond, narrowing missing homes clustered around it.
Witnesses said they watched the aircraft coming in, with its parachute — a safety feature on some smaller planes — deployed behind it.
"He was sputtering, and the engine cut off, and the parachute came out, when we heard a big 'poof,'" said resident Julie Burck.
After the crash, the plane was nearly submerged in water covered by aircraft fuel and the parachute.
The survivors were in area hospitals but their injuries were not considered life-threatening. Edesess' wife, Pouliri, was listed in fair condition, and his son, Jeremy, and Janet Adams were in serious but stable condition. Konzen identified Adams as Jeremy Edesess' girlfriend.
Three rescuers were taken to hospitals for observation because they were exposed to the leaked fuel, Konzen said.
The Edesesses had been in Thailand visiting Pouliri Edesess' family when the tsunami hit. The three family members and another son, Robert, told reporters afterward that were in a tour boat visiting Emerald Cave in the Andaman Sea when huge waves smashed it against the rocks off the southern coast of Thailand. About 80 tourists were trapped in the cave and two died.
The single-engine, four-seat aircraft was a 2006 model made by Cirrus Design Corp. of Duluth, Minn.
"We're all about safety, we design what we believe is hands down the safest airplane in its class in the world," said Bill King, the company's vice president of business administration.
Corey said federal investigators arrived at the crash site Monday.