Pilot jumps to safety as plane drops

Craft registered in Atlanta was Augusta bound
Corey Perrine/Staff
Wreckage litters the ground after a plane smashed into a Burke County clearing. The pilot bailed out before the Thursday night crash, and walked to a road. The pilot's name was not released.

Forrest Cothron was in the woods Thursday evening when he heard a peculiar noise.

He thought at first it was a tractor coming through the wide clearing he was staking out in hopes of spotting a deer.

Then he realized the sound was coming from the sky.

"It was kind of a sputter," said Cothron, 23.

He looked up to see a falling plane headed straight for the meadow where he was standing in rural Burke County, near Waynesboro. The pilot bailed out just before the plane smashed into the clearing with a boom other hunters in the area compared to a bomb explosion.

With his ears still ringing, Cothron cautiously approached the wreckage. There was very little smoke or flame, but he was still leery of an explosion.

Cothron couldn't see the pilot, who authorities say parachuted to safety and walked to the nearest road to get help. The pilot, who was not named Wednesday evening, declined medical treatment for the crash, which happened about 7:15 p.m. on private property off Saxon Road, about two miles west of state Highway 23.

Official facts were few Thursday evening.

Kathleen Bergen, a spokeswoman with the Federal Aviation Administration, said the single-engine Aero Commander was headed to Augusta Regional Airport, but its starting point was unknown.

The aircraft is registered to Kalunji Aviation Group in Atlanta, according to the FAA.

About 8:45 p.m., there were still a few first responders lingering around the scene of the crash, along with the medical helicopter that located the debris.

Tall trees surrounding the meadow blocked out most of the moonlight, but it was still possible to make out the bits and pieces of aircraft that littered the area. One piece of debris was wrapped around a pine tree about 20 feet in the air.

The bulk of the wreckage was a mangled ball of seats, tires and propeller.

Cothron said the plane hit the ground directly and did very little skidding or sliding.