A single-engine airplane crashed onto a farm in southern Cole County Sunday afternoon, and the two passengers were flown by helicopter to University Hospital with potential life-threatening injuries.
Both the pilot and co-pilot had managed to get out of the mangled plane and were tending to each other's injuries when emergency responders arrived at the scene, said Mike Rackers, assistant chief of the Cole County Fire Protection District. The victims' names were not released on Sunday, but both were men — one apparently in his 30s and the other in his 60s.
"The aircraft is in pretty bad shape," said Capt. John Wheeler with the Cole County Sheriff's Department. "I was very surprised to hear that the individuals were actually out of the aircraft and tending to themselves. The pilot, I think, must have done a pretty good job trying to set it down and keeping them out of danger. That or the grace of God, because the aircraft is pretty torn up."
The only call received by authorities was from the property owner, who saw a low-flying aircraft then heard a loud crash at about 2:30 p.m. The property is located near Henley, at 1610 N. Teal Bottom Road, near its intersection with South Teal Bottom.
One of the men had injuries to his chest and face, while the other suffered an impalement to his head, possibly from a stick, said Kevin Wieberg, public information officer for Cole County Emergency Medical Services.
"Both were conscious upon our arrival," Wieberg said. "They did treat each other, rendering first aid. Our units both cared for the patients and were able to successfully and safely load them on the helicopters and get them to the University (Hospital) and get them further care."
The two-seat aircraft has the words "MARINES" across it, the number 54 and a World War II-era star and bars emblem. Also written on the plane under the cockpit area was "Paul Poberenzy EEA #1." Poberenzy founded the Experimental Aircraft Association, and died at the age of 91 in 2013.
"When we arrived, we found both patients out of the plane. They were tending to each other, and we started patient care," Rackers said.
"Air ambulance" helicopters responded from Lake Regional Hospital and University Hospital in Columbia, Wieberg said. Each transferred one patient. Both patients were responsive and alert, but had potentially life-threatening injuries, he said.
His agency turned over the scene to the Cole County Sheriff's Department, which secured the area and will turn the scene over to the National Transportation Safety Board today for investigation into the cause of the crash.
It was a sunny day, but Wheeler, who has military experience in aviation, said there could be a number of potential causes.
"There's a plethora of things that could happened," Wheeler said. "Flight control issues. Engine issues. We'll have to wait for the FAA to come in, and they'll question everyone who was at the scene today."
Wheeler said his department has been in contact with the Federal Aviation Administration, which will be on the scene tomorrow to start its investigation.
The crash was about a third of a mile down a private drive, and not near any residential structure. The area was cordoned off with tape, and no one was being allowed to touch the aircraft until the FAA arrives on the scene, Wheeler said.
Most of the plane appeared to be intact, but Wheeler said several pieces were broken off.
Three Rivers Electric was also on the scene, because officials believe a high-wire was taken down by the plane.
Both Three Rivers and the Cole County Fire Protection District have locations just a few miles from the site of the crash.
Wheeler said he can't recall another downed plane while working for Cole County, other than a call about seven years ago that turned out to be a false alarm. Back when he worked for the Jefferson City Police Department, he said, there was a small plane crash in the city.
"It is a rare occurrence," he said. "And everyone's just thankful that, No. 1, someone saw the aircraft flying low like that. So luckily, we had some people who were able to locate the aircraft in a quick time and let these people (first responders) do their job, a phenomenal job, in getting those two victims to the hospital."