Investigators returning to Columbus plane crash site

Photo courtesy Madison McCabe
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Updated: .

Investigators will be back out at the site of that plane crash in Columbus, collecting evidence that may help them learn what caused the plane to go down.

The pilot Gerald Clayton and his passenger, Dennis King both remain in the burn unit at Wishard hospital with serious injuries and burns. The plane is registered in Clayton's name, according to the FAA.

They were injured Thursday morning after a small plane struck a house in Columbus, Indiana. The crash occurred just after the plane took off from the Columbus Municipal Airport.

See a slide show of images from the scene.

No injuries were reported from the home. The impact destroyed the rear of the home and fire burned through much of the roof.

Witnesses said the plane burst into flames on impact. They also say they heard the plane sputtering before the crash.

It happened around 9:30 am, prompting dozens of calls to 911. The plane struck a house in the 2200 block of Broadmoor on the north side of the city. The house is south of Rocky Ford and east of Central Ave. about a mile south of the Columbus Municipal Airport.

The scene was secured by 11:00 am. Remnants of the plane were not visible from helicopter aerials. At this point it's believed that fire may have destroyed much of the aircraft.

Firefighters with the Columbus Fire Department were able to keep the fire from significantly damaging surrounding homes, although they did sustain some damage.

The Federal Aviation Administration is conducting an investigation. The Columbus Police Department, Bartholomew County Sheriff's Department, Indiana State Police, and the Bartholomew County Emergency Management Agency are assisting.

Investigators are combing the crash site for evidence and interviewing witnesses to determine the cause of the crash.

Residents are being asked to avoid the area. Police have set up a command post at Grace Lutheran Church.

Homeowner escaped safely

Hiroko Nakao was inside her home when the plane struck it. She managed to escape unharmed.

She told Eyewitness News she was doing laundry when she heard loud sounds. The plane struck the rear of the home, destroying the patio sun room and causing the home's windows to shatter.

"I thought maybe small airplane crashed into my house," she said.

"I don't believe it. I think it's a joke but she's very serious, so I came home suddenly," said her husband, Tadashi Nakao.

After Hiroko left the home, she said she saw the victims who had been in the plane.

As for the next steps after the plane destroyed their home?

"I have no idea...but my body is okay so I'm glad," she said.

"I'm very lucky because she's okay. Even if the house is damaged, it's fine. We are very fortunate, I think," said her husband.

Nearby workers rushed to the rescue

A work crew in the neighborhood saw what happened and rushed in to help.

"I seen the plane go down and we could hear something going on. I could see the white smoke. By the time I got to the house and knocked on the door and nobody answered, I saw Pat helping somebody sitting down beneath the tree," said one of the men.

"I took off in my truck across the street to the back of the house and found a gentleman wandering around disoriented and on fire. I broke down the fence in the backyard. He was trapped in the backyard with the plane. I busted the fence down and ushered him out away from the plane and got a water house and got the fire off of him," explained Pat, the other worker.

Plane built from kit

The airplane involved in a Columbus crash that injured two men was built from a kit, but experts say it has a good safety record.

Spokesman Dick Knapinski of the Experimental Aircraft Association based in Oshkosh, Wisconsin., says the Glastar GS-1 has been around "for a number of years" and that the association uses Glastar aircraft for its youth program.

The plane involved in Thursday's crash is registered to Gerald Clayton of Columbus. Clayton was on board the aircraft when it crashed and has serious injuries including severe burns. Another man, Dennis King, was also in the plane and is in serious condition.

Columbus resident Larry Ruble says he knows the pilot and that he built the aircraft himself.

See a slide show of images from the scene.

Clayton is a volunteer at the Atterbury-Bakalar Air Museum, according to the museum website.

According to the museum, Clayton is an Air Force veteran, having joined in 1951. He achieved the rank of Airman First Class before being discharged in December 1954, and he earned his private pilot certificate in 1965.

The museum website says it took Clayton nine years to build a Glastar kit airplane which is hangared at the Columbus, Indiana Municipal Airport. Eyewitness News has not confirmed if Clayton was flying that same plane when it crashed Thursday morning.

Witnesses urged to contact police

Any witnesses who have not been interviewed by investigators are asked to contact Columbus Police Detective Chris Couch at 812-376-2628.