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Flames engulf aircraft seconds after impact

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Moments after a plane sputtered, shook and slammed into a Greenwood neighborhood, three people tried desperately to save the pilot and co-pilot inside.

A police officer and two others ran to the smoking wreckage of the small plane and pulled the co-pilot out. They ran back again, this time to get the pilot. But in the seconds it took them to return, the plane was engulfed in flames.

They tried getting through the fire. They used a garden hose to try to douse the flames. They believed the pilot was alive.

But they couldn’t get to the pilot, who died immediately after the crash. The co-pilot, Michael Elliot of Tarpon Springs, Florida, was taken to Indiana University Health Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis, Greenwood Police Department Assistant Chief Matt Fillenwarth said.

Elliot was listed in critical condition Friday evening.

The pilot’s name had not been released.

Hours later, the people who tried to help were still too shaken up to talk about it.

The pilot and co-pilot were flying a single-engine plane from Greenwood to another state for inspection.

Just before 2:30 p.m., the plane took off from the Greenwood Municipal Airport, lost power for an unknown reason and crashed on Patterson Street. The Lakeview neighborhood off Main Street is just west of the shopping center that includes the Oaken Barrel Brewing Co.

The plane struck one house, went through a fence and struck a second home, Fillenwarth said. The back porch on one of the homes was destroyed. The homes are about a quarter-mile away from the airport.

Neighbors and people at nearby businesses watched in horror as the plane went down.

Firefighters and police officers, who were just down the road at Valle Vista Health System for a medical call, were at the scene in about a minute after one of the emergency workers saw the plane go down.

Officer Eric McElhaney and two bystanders rescued the co-pilot and went back for the pilot, but the flames were too intense, Greenwood Fire Chief James Sipes said.

Two of the people helping were injured. One was shocked by a downed power line, and the other injured an ankle. Both injuries were minor, Fillenwarth said.

Firefighters used water and then foam to put out the flames within 10 minutes, Sipes said.

The crash is the second in Greenwood this year. In March, a plane that had taken off from the Greenwood Airport crashed into a field after having mechanical issues. The pilot and a student inside were injured but survived.

An employee at the airport declined to comment about Friday’s crash until after being interviewed by the National Transportation Safety Board, which investigates plane crashes when deaths are involved.

The Federal Aviation Administration was called and will interview witnesses to the crash, inspect the damaged plane, a single-engine 1991 Mooney aircraft, and look at any maintenance records to try to determine the cause of the crash. The agency will then pass the information on to the NTSB.

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