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Friend: Pilot 'flew the plane until it wouldn't fly anymore'

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Dave Bolser, of the Western North Carolina Pilot's Association, said for any aviator who loses power, trying to restart the engine is obviously job one. But, if that fails, setting up for the best glide path is key. (Photo credit: WLOS staff)

A plane that crashed Sunday in Rutherford County was part of Young Eagles, an introduction to flight program created by a non-profit to promote aviation among young people.

It was supposed to be fun, just another quick trip out of Hendersonville Airport and back.

But the plane ride for three juveniles went terribly wrong.

911 caller: An airplane just crashed in my backyard.

Dispatcher: OK. An airplane crashed?

911 caller: Yes, or a helicopter just crashed in my backyard.

Rutherford county 911 first got word of the emergency late Sunday afternoon.

Dispatcher: Did it drop straight out of the air or did it look like it was trying to land?

911 caller: It kind of looked like it was trying to land, trying to land, but it was in trouble or something.

Neighbors rushed to the scene in the heavily wooded area.

"We did what we could to keep them from bleeding, tore the windshield off the best we could," a nearby resident Frank Moore said.

The single-engine Grumman Cheetah came to rest on its belly, wedged between trees with its propeller showing little sign of damage.

"The airplane was not running when it hit the ground," Dave Bolser, of the Western North Carolina Pilot's Association, said. "If the engine's running and the prop hits the dirt, it bends it in all different kinds of ways."

Anton Pretorious, Bolser's friend and fellow member of the Western North Carolina Pilot's Association, piloted the Grumman.

Bolser said for any aviator who loses power, trying to restart the engine is obviously job one. But, if that fails, setting up for the best glide path is key. Bolser believes Pretorious did just that.

"An airplane that size, with four passengers, goes down in the trees, usually it doesn't end that well," Bolser said. "He's a good pilot. He flew, I believe he flew that airplane so that when it went into the trees it was as soft as he could put that in the trees."

"He's trained to do what he did. And, to land that airplane the way he did, it just proves that he flew the plane until it wouldn't fly anymore, which is basically what a good pilot does."

Rutherford County Emergency Management officials said the FAA completed its inspection of the aircraft Monday morning and will continue to handle the investigation. Officials also said the wreckage will be removed from the woods tomorrow.

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