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Pilot, passengers OK after plane lands on Ohio River

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By Sharon Graves

An emergency landing on the Ohio River near Carrollton ended what was to be an hour-long pleasure ride for a pilot and two passengers Wednesday, June 25.

The pilot, Glenn A. Moorman of Union, Ky., formerly of Carrollton, brought the rented 1976 Grumman Cheetha single-engine plane down on the river when it lost power and the engine shut down. The plane landed upright in the river, allowing Moorman and passengers Arthur Bell and Justine D. Bell, both of Madison, Ind., to exit the plane.

The aircraft was submerged in minutes, leading officials to close the channel for several hours to ensure it wouldn’t affect barge traffic.

Neither Moorman nor Arthur Bell were injured; Kentucky State Police reported minor injuries for Justine Bell.

Moorman, who has been a pilot since 2005, said at the first sign of trouble, he wanted to put the plane down on land, but “I had to put it down on the river because of all the power lines on the Kentucky side.” He knew the struggling plane wouldn’t make it to the Indiana side of the river, where there were safe places to land.

“I told the passengers to buckle up tight and showed them how the door hatch worked in case something happened to me,” Moorman said. “We hit the water hard enough to pull on the harnesses, but not hard enough to hit the dashboard.” 

The plane sank almost immediately and could not be seen from the riverbank or from boats that went in search of it. 

Randy Tharp, 911 supervisor and Carrollton fire chief, said searchers found no sheen of oil or fuel on the surface of the water to indicate where the plane sank. He said that indicates the fuel tank is intact and not leaking, but without the sheen, retrieving the plane will be much more difficult.

Moorman said he and the Bells stood on the wings of the plane before it submerged and tried to call for help on their cell phones, “but we had no cell phone service.” Once on the riverbank, the trio climbed the hill at the old M&T softball field on U.S. 42.

“We walked to Bearings Headquarters and asked for help there,” he said.

Moorman said his passengers were able to joke about the incident and praised the Bells for not panicking. But he said he’s been having trouble sleeping, worrying about how things could have turned out.

Asked if he would fly again, he answered, “not unless I can devote more time to it.”

KSP Trooper Kurt Buhts compiled the initial report on the incident and turned it over to the Transportation Cabinet’s Department of Aviation for further investigation.

Buhts was assisted at the scene by the U.S. Coast Guard, the Carroll County Rescue Squad and the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife.