WORTHINGTON, Ky. (AP) - An 80-year-old man died Saturday when the single-engine plane he was piloting crashed into the Ohio River in eastern Kentucky.
William G. Stevens of Grayson was pronounced dead at the scene on the banks of the river near Worthington, Kentucky State Police said.
The plane crashed at about 3 p.m. while trying to land at the Ashland Regional Airport in Worthington, troopers said.
Rick Lawson was fishing for bass in the Ohio River with his two sons and a friend when he heard the plane's engine sputter, then watched it crash about 100 yards from his boat. Lawson's wife, Diane, said her husband tried to rescue the pilot, but couldn't.
"He tried and tried again. He just couldn't do it. He hurt his hand trying to get the door open because he knew someone was in there," Diane Lawson told The Daily Independent in Ashland.
Stevens radioed back to the Worthington airport shortly after takeoff to report he was having engine problems and was planning to return, said Jack Metz, a member of the airport's board of directors.
Within minutes airport officials heard him say, "he was putting it in the water," Metz said.
David Prichard, who often watches the aircraft passing overhead in Worthington, said he "heard a loud crunch and no motor sound," when he realized the plane had crashed.
"I got down here and it was upside down, half submerged and sinking slowly," he said.
Metz told the paper that engine failure is almost certain to be found at fault.
"The engine wasn't running when he hit. He was flying it dead stick," Metz said, meaning the pilot had only basic flight controls to guide the airplane to the ground.
Metz and Robert Martin, who has worked on many similar aircraft, said Stevens "loved to fly" and was qualified to pilot single- and multiengine planes and had attained his instrument rating. Stevens also built an estimated dozen experimental aircraft with another under construction.
Stevens had a small airstrip at his home, roughly two miles from downtown Grayson, Metz and Martin said.
"It is hard to say how many hours of flight time he had," Metz said.
Greenup County Coroner Neil Wright ordered an autopsy to be conducted in Frankfort.
The airplane was a low-wing Grumman Cheetah AA-5B with seating for the pilot and three passengers.
The Federal Aviation Administration has been notified of the incident and is investigating the crash.
--- Information from: The Independent, www.dailyindependent.com
(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)