GUNTERSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) – A small four-seat plane crash landed into Lake Guntersville just before noon Saturday.
The pilot, Thomas Kinstler, suffered no injuries and there were no passengers on board.
The St. Clair County man told WHNT News 19 the single engine on his Beech C-23 stopped working, and he landed in the water near the Lake Guntersville Sailing Club.
He escaped the plane before it sank in the lake, and boats arrived to take him to shore.
Guntersville Airport manager Matthew Metcalfe said Kinstler handled the situation perfectly, and the aircraft stayed in one piece with no debris. Officials are waiting for National Transportation Safety Board approval to remove the boat from the water.
Kinstler started piloting planes more than 40 years ago, and said he didn’t really think about what to do; his decades of experience simply kicked in.
“It’s pretty much instinctive when you realize the engine had no power,” Kinstler said.
“You don’t have to make a lot of decisions at that point. It’s just a question of making the decision of where you’re going to put the airplane. The best alternative would be to make it to the airport but it didn’t have enough energy. It wasn’t high enough,” he said.
“It was either put it on the highway or put it on the lake, and it was a lot better to put it on the lake so that’s what I did.”
Kinstler said he had to make sure not to stall the airplane, so he could maintain control, rather than end up putting the nose in the water and risk flipping the plane.
“It was the most textbook perfect ditching he could have done,” Matt Metcalfe said.
“They say the first thing you want to do is aviate, fly the airplane, and he did just that. He got the airplane low and slow over the water before he ditched and kept the airplane from flipping over on its top. That’s usually the most traumatic thing that you could go through.”
Metcalfe said Kinstler opened his door before the plane hit the water so he would not risk being trapped by water pressure, and the pilot was sitting on the wing when boats arrived.
“It’s unfortunate it happened but everything went as well as it possibly could have gone.”
Mike Cobb saw the airplane overhead and said he could tell the engine was not running.
“Slow motion all the way, I mean he came in quietly. You don’t hear any noise and all of a sudden he goes behind the trees and you know he’s only got 10 feet to go,” Cobb said.
“Manages to fly over and stall the airplane enough where he kind of dropped in the water.”
Some fisherman were the first to the airplane.
Marine Police and the Guntersville Fire and Rescue boat arrived within minutes and paramedics checked on Kinstler. He was shaken up but had no injuries.
“The shoulder harnesses held me pretty rigidly. Stopped pretty fast so there was a pretty good jolt but then it was a question of just kind of tidying things up,” Kinstler said.
The area is marked off and Metcalfe said local officials notified the National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration to begin an investigation.
Metcalfe said it should not be too difficult to recover the plane since it stayed intact.
Metcalfe said he does not know if the plane will be flyable again after its recovery.
“It depends on how much damage water does to the airplane, to the structure,” he said.