(BALTIMORE) — When John Gelinne Sr. and his son saw a small plane crash-land into an ice-covered creek near their Maryland home on Monday morning, they immediately jumped into action.
The two military men grabbed their kayaks and made their way out to the downed plane, which had landed in Beards Creek in Edgewater, not far from Lee Airport. They used shovels to propel themselves across the iced-over creek, as their paddles were rendered useless by the frozen water.
As the single-engine Piper Cherokee plane sank, the pilot was able to exit and stood on the wing while waiting for help, Maryland State Police said.
When the father and son reached the pilot, he was standing waist-deep in the freezing waters.
Gelinne Sr. said he told the pilot, “‘Get out of the water, just get out of the water and just hold tight."”
“I just pick-axed backwards and got my kayak back out of the ice and he was out of the water,” Gelinne Sr., a retired naval officer, told Baltimore ABC affiliate WMAR.
Anne Arundel County Police Officer Elizabeth Myersalso also responded via kayak, using a screwdriver to skim across the ice. Body-camera footage shows her reaching the scene of the crash as the 71-year-old pilot, who was the sole occupant of the plane, is hanging on to Gelinne Sr.’s kayak.
A Maryland Department of Natural Resources Police vessel then reached the scene and took the pilot to an awaiting ambulance, police said. He was transported to a local hospital and received treatment for non-life-threatening injuries, authorities said.
The cause of the crash is under investigation, though the preliminary investigation indicates that the plane’s engine began sputtering “moments after the pilot took off from Lee Airport,” state police said.
“Witnesses told police they heard the sputter and shortly thereafter, they heard the plane crash into Beards Creek,” state police said in a statement.
The Gelinnes thought the plane was going to hit their house — until it landed in the creek.
“He recognized he was in trouble and he banked it hard left,” Gelinne Sr. told WMAR.
The father and son suspect the pilot saved lives with this maneuver.
“He probably saved himself and some houses around him, too,” John Gelinne Jr. told WMAR.
The kayakers were not injured in the rescue operation. Gelinne Jr., a U.S. Marine, was left impressed by his father’s actions.
“I’m sore, so I’m sure he’s pretty sore as well,” Gelinne Jr. told WMAR.
First responders hailed the Gelinnes for their quick thinking and likely life-saving actions in getting to the pilot quickly and pulling him partially out of the freezing water. Anne Arundel County Fire Department Lt. Jennifer Macallair called their efforts “heroic.”
Though Gelinne Sr. told WMAR he doesn’t see it that way.
“I look at it just as someone who saw something that needed to do something,” he said.
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