BURKE COUNTY, N.C. — Two people are being called heroes after they tried to save a pilot who crashed his plane in Morganton Monday evening.
The pilot, 84-year-old John Shell Sr., survived the crash around and his small plane burst into flames along Jamestown Road in Morganton, near the Silver Creek Airport, officials said.
Public safety officers told Channel 9 that Shell was flying a super modified T-6, a World War II era aircraft, when it had mechanical problems around 5 p.m., leading to the crash.
Officials said Shell's injuries were not serious and he was walking around the crash site.
Witnesses told Channel 9 reporter Dave Faherty that they saw the plane sputtering just before the crash, and that Shell was able to get out of the plane before it burst into flames.
A portion of the wing ended up in a tree, dozens of feet from where the rest of the plane slammed into the ground and caught fire.
The pilot's son picked up his father's helmet from the crash site, thankful he survived.
"I'm glad he's alive. I’m glad he's alive,” Michael Shell said. “He doesn't remember. He doesn't remember.”
Tyler Woodard was visiting his mother nearby when he saw the plane go down.
"I heard it sputtering out of control,” Woodard said. “I immediately took off running and I didn't think nothing else about it, and me and another gentleman dragged him out."
Shell was taken to the hospital.
"He's blessed to be alive," Woodard said. "This is something you'd see on a movie and he's just blessed to be alive."
Woodard’s mother, who lives nearby, followed him, taking cellphone video of the crash scene.
Officials believe the plane took off from Silver Creek Airport, about a half-mile from the crash scene.
"In my mind they're heroes,” said Morganton Public Safety Chief Ronnie Rector. “They put themselves in risk considering the wreckage and the fire and the aviation fuel all around them."
Channel 9 was with FAA investigators Tuesday morning as they combed the crash scene, trying to figure out what went wrong.
They’ve heard from witnesses who described the plane sputtering before it went down, and Channel 9 hopes to get more information from investigators throughout the afternoon.
(Watch as Chopper 9 flew over the scene after the crash)
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