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Pilot parachutes from plane, lands in former paratroopers' field

The single-engine plane crashed in a clearing off Saxon Road in Burke County.
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News 12 First at Five / Friday, October 22, 2010

WAYNESBORO, Ga. -- About 7:15 Thursday night, a four-seater, one-engine plane went down in a field off Saxon Road in Burke County. Rescue crews were able to find the wreckage in less than an hour in a field about a mile East of Highway 56. But there is still a lot we don't know about the minutes leading up to that crash.

People who live near Saxon Road say it was just getting dark when they heard an odd choking noise coming from above.

Ellie Hessek describes,"It was a glowing ball. It looked like it was on fire!" Hessek and her friend were swinging on their porch when the neighbor pointed up to the sky. "He looked out and he said...there's a parachute. I didn't believe him. But I looked out and yeah! It was a guy coming down just over the peak of that house [next door]."

She said the man and his parachute disappeared and then they spotted the plane." The pilot had just about disappeared over the tree line. Then the plane plunged down behind the trees and we heard a big explosion."

Thomas Saxon owns the property on Saxon Road where the plane went down. He saw the whole accident, too. "First I heard the plane sputtering in the air. I got to where I could see it and the nose went down in the woods. There was a big crash and boom, and that's was it!" Saxon says he called 9-1-1 and ambulances responded immediately. "The pilot did bail out before the plane landed. He got to ground safely. I'm real glad he wasn't hurt."

Hessek says she was very worried about the stranger. "All I could picture was this poor sap hanging in a tree somewhere and they can't find him...or what condition he'd be in if they did."

But the Sheriff's Office says the plane's pilot, Barrington Carl Slack of Lithonia, Georgia, survived the jump with only a few scratches. Kyle Knight says he and his dad were driving down when they saw the pilot. "We came down here and picked up the pilot from the woods. He just had a scratch." Knight couldn't believe the man was alive.

Hessek shakes her head, "It was phenomenal. I don't ever want to see anything like that again." The pilot made several passes trying to land at the Augusta Regional Airport before the crash, according to airport representatives. Several neighbors tell News 12 Slack ran out of fuel and just decided to jump.

As Saxon walks around the wreckage is exclaims, "I just really didn't realize it was this close to our house!" He's no stranger to aviation. "You never know what's gonna happen when you jump out of an airplane." Saxon was a paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne Division of the U.S. Army. He says he's jumped out of dozens of planes, but never for an emergency like this.

Saxon believes the pilot was fortunate to even have a parachute. "Most planes this small size fly without parachutes. He was fortunate, I guess." It's unclear exactly why Slack did have the parachute, but authorities say it is very clear it saved his life. Saxon met the pilot right after the crash and says Slack was very calm, still wearing the parachute and harness.

National Transportation Safety Board records show this plane was in a different accident in Missouri in 2006. The plane was caught in crosswinds during a landing and ended up in a field. The accident involved different pilot and passenger; both were uninjured.

Two investigators from the Federal Aviation Administration were looking at the wreckage today. They have not released information confirming the cause of the crash.