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Crews dismantle, remove crash debris from neighborhood


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Residents gathered on Patterson Street the morning after a plane crashed in their Greenwood neighborhood, watching as workers dismantled the single-engine airplane that hit two homes.

The cluster in the street had seen a blaze of fire Friday afternoon and heard the smash of the aircraft grazing one house and then crumpling in another home’s backyard.

During the weekend, they picked up metal plane parts from their yards, and put their arms around the mother of the pilot who died. They were in shock, stunned by a tragedy that had fallen from the sky, they said.

“It’s just like a nightmare, really,” said Sam Linder Jr., who lives across the street. “I just thank God it didn’t hurt a lot more people.”

The plane missed a play house, with two young girls inside, and only grazed the houses where residents were spending their afternoons. The crash sounded like a car accident on Main Street, Linder said.

Linder and other residents saw a neighbor run across the street in his bare feet to get to the unconscious pilot and passenger, and struggle, with the help of a stranger and a police officer, to pull a man out of the burning plane. Other people from the neighborhood and a shopping center nearby also went running to help.

The rescuers couldn’t reach pilot William Gilliland, 46, of Greenwood, without first pulling out passenger Michael Elliott because the plane only had one door on the co-pilot’s side.

William Gilliland, 46, of Greenwood, without first pulling out passenger Michael Elliot because the pilot’s door was smashed. Gilliland died before anyone could reach him, while the flames in the backyard rose above the house at 29 Patterson St., where he crashed. Elliott,

a Tarpon Springs, Florida, resident was taken to Indiana University Health Methodist Hospital and was in critical condition Sunday afternoon.

The plane went down less than one-quarter of a mile from the Greenwood Municipal Airport, where it took off. The National Transportation Safety Board will study the wreckage as part of an investigation into why Gilliland’s 1991 single-engine Mooney aircraft crashed.

Workers collected the plane pieces from behind Rickey and Rosie Smith’s house, leaving the plane’s engine briefly in the front yard while they loaded a trailer with chunks of metal.

When the plane was hauled away and police officers drove off, Gilliland’s mother came to see the spot where she lost her son. Gawkers drove by, slowing their cars to look at the houses and yellow tape tied across the yards.

The workers left behind the gutter at 25 Patterson St., which the plane clipped, and the Smiths’ patio roof, which the aircraft sheered off before smashing in their yard.

The plane came to rest just short of their inflatable swimming pool. Rickey Smith was wearing his swim trunks, about to head for the pool, when the crash happened Friday.

But through his window he saw fire, and a neighbor was trying to pull a man from the wreckage of a plane right outside.

Smith called 911, then opened his back door. But the heat from the fire just a few yards from him was too intense for him to get outside. When he went to the front door, firefighters were there to tell him to leave his home for safety.

He called his wife, who was at work, and had to repeat his news twice.

“He said, ‘An airplane hit our house.’ I said, ‘What? I’ll be home,’” Rosie Smith said.

She quickly left Indianapolis and arrived to a smoky backyard and the smell of burning rubber. Their house has smoke damage inside. It also has a melted screen door, smashed awning and a lawnmower that partially melted outside. Their lawn is blackened from the fire and still has foam and sand that firefighters poured on the fire and plane fuel.

Their inflatable pool looks untouched, still holding water even though plane pieces landed on the ladder.

Rickey Smith had never thought about having a plane crash in his neighborhood. Though he and his wife live close to the airport and the tragedy happened in their yard, they won’t move.

“But I’ll always look up at the sky when I hear an airplane now,”   he said.

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