KNOXVILLE (WATE) – The Knox County Sheriff’s Office said a pilot and his passenger were able to swim to safety after their single-engine plane crash in the French Broad River.
The pilot, Mark Watkins, and his passenger, Emily Smith, were taken by Rural/Metro to University of Tennessee Medical Center with minor injuries. Deputies said the plane clipped a power line over the river near Fawver Road and crashed into the water near French Road at around 1:30 p.m. Tuesday.
The sheriff’s office said the American Decathalon, 2-seater airplane had just taken off from the Downtown Island Airport, which is about 20 miles from where the plane crashed. It’s not clear where the couple was heading.
The FAA was notified and The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating. The sheriff’s office said Watkins has a pilot’s license issued September 2, 2014.
“They are lucky, a small plane like that hitting the water is significant all by itself,” said Mark Walker with the Knox County Rescue Squad.
Brenda Brogden lives across the river. She saw the plane hit the electrical wire from her back patio.
“It was just sparks, sparks going every which way,” said Brogden.
She then heard the plane crash into the water a few seconds later.
“Very terrifying because I was sure nobody could survive that,” said Brogden.
She immediately called 911. She said she could hardly talk on the phone with the operator.
“You know, I can see somebody walking in the water. They’re going up to the edge of the bank. It looks like two people,” said Brogden in the 911 call made Tuesday.
She could not believe she saw the two passengers walking.
“I told him they must not be hurt too bad because they are walking. I can’t believe they actually made it,” said Brogden.
FAA crews pulled the plane out of French Broad River early Wednesday morning. The team was inspecting the plane to see if the plane was okay to fly before take-off.
“Different breaks in the metal. You look for how it was broken and what possible could have caused it,” said Aaron Devogel, aviation inspector.
Devogel said it appeared nothing was wrong with the plane before takeoff.
“With the way the aircraft looks, every indication of wire strike and then impact with the water,” said Devogel.
FAA is looking over the plane and then handing information to NTSB so it can analyze the information and find a cause.
“Could be 6 months. It could be a couple of years,” said Devogel.
Devogel is a also former helicopter pilot. He is impressed that the passengers came out of the crash with little to no injuries.
“We don’t necessarily know at this time why he was flying low but normal flight should not have been this low,” said Devogel.
KUB said 108 people were without power after the crash.