REGIONAL- An Iowa couple who spent several days visiting at Lake Vermilion for the Fourth of July holiday was on the road home Tuesday, lucky to be alive after their Piper PA-32 plane crashed on …
REGIONAL- An Iowa couple who spent several days visiting at Lake Vermilion for the Fourth of July holiday was on the road home Tuesday, lucky to be alive after their Piper PA-32 plane crashed on Sunday near Eveleth, not long after they took off from the Tower airport.
73-year-old Richard Zahasky and his 68-year-old wife, Roseann, of Decorah, Iowa, took off from the Tower airport at 10:30 a.m. on Sunday, and soon began experiencing engine problems, according to Deputy Chief Jesse Linde of the Eveleth Police Department.
“At some point in the air they started having engine issues and his engine completely stopped,” Linde said. “He tried to do a restart and that didn’t work, so then they were gliding.”
Linde said that Zahasky, a seasoned pilot with more than 30 years of experience, looked at an iPad navigation program to determine that the Eveleth airport was the closest airstrip.
However, when it became apparent the plane wouldn’t reach the airport, Zahasky started looking for a “soft spot” to try to land, Linde said. As the plane glided toward a marshy and wooded area about 2.5 miles east of the airport runway, Zahasky made a decision that may have been instrumental to the couple’s survival.
“He opened the door on the way down,” Linde said. “That’s smart thinking, to think ahead so that they would be able to get out after the plane crashed. The plane immediately started on fire.”
The crash reportedly sheared off the plane’s wings, and the fuselage was severely mangled, Linde said.
“If you saw the crash site and the burned plane you wouldn’t expect that anyone would have come away from it alive,” Linde said.
But the Zahaskys did survive, escaping the plane with minor injuries, but without a cellphone. With no way to communicate with the outside world, they decided to try to walk to the airport, Linde said. The crash site was about 1.5 miles away from the closest road, in the vicinity of the convergence of Bodas and Clyde roads in Fayal Township.
Linde estimated that the crash happened around 11 a.m., but no emergency call was received until 3:02 p.m. Once notified of a possible accident, a spotter plane was activated that located the scene of the crash. A specialized unit from the St. Louis County Rescue Squad, designed to travel in swampy areas, found the couple walking near the crash site, having turned back after finding their original route too difficult to traverse.
“The rescue squad is absolutely amazing,” Linde said. “We don’t train on plane crashes. They actually had something like this not too long ago that they assisted on. It pays off for something like this.”
The Zahaskys were taken to a local hospital, treated for minor injuries, and released.
“I spoke with him early this morning,” Linde said on Tuesday. “They’re driving back to Iowa.”
The crash is under investigation by the FAA.