Kirby Crump poses with the Heroism Award he received from West Jordan City on Sept. 24, 2014. (Photo: Kirby Crump)
The pilot was stuck. A flash of anger overcame the heat in the cramped cockpit.
Crump recognized the immediate danger. The wrecked plane was on fire. No one was coming to his aid, at least not in time to make a difference. If he retreated, the pilot would burn to death.
It didn't matter. He was committed, even if it meant his life. At the rate the fire was growing, it would only take a few more moments for death to reach him.
Then, something hit him in the back.
Utah National Guard Staff Sgt. Robert Kelley had come back onto the wing for a third time, slapping Crump to let him know he was not alone.
Crump heaved with all his strength, knowing full well the force could leave the pilot paralyzed. At last, the tall man came loose from the mangled wreckage. Together, Crump and Kelley dragged him out and onto the grass.
Firefighters and police who were just arriving at the West Jordan Soccer Complex couldn't believe what they were seeing.
"He made that decision right there in that burning cockpit, when his forehead he felt was about to blister from the heat, that 'no, I'm going to stay here and get this guy out'," West Jordan Police Sgt. Dan Roberts said. "That is character."
Few people have heard Crump's story. When the news cameras showed up at the soccer fields that sunny Sunday, he stood off to the side. He'd have left altogether, but had to stay because yellow police tape was fluttering from his red pickup truck. Investigators had used it to help establish a perimeter around the crash site.
"You don't do this kind of thing because you're waiting for someone to step up and give you something," Crump said a little more than a year later.
His actions that day though have earned him a Carnegie Medal. It's a high honor reserved for civilians who risk or even lose their lives saving others.
It's an honor he almost refused.
A small plane crashed and went up in flames at a soccer complex near the South Valley Regional Airport Sunday morning, police say.
Flying conditions were beautiful the morning of Aug. 10, 2014. Steven Sedlacek, his wife, Kathleen, and their adult daughter, Anna Looper, were planning to head home to Boise, Idaho, following a trip to Utah.
Steven, the pilot, taxied his Piper PA-32 onto runway 16 at the South Valley Regional Airport and opened up the throttle. The single-engine airplane accelerated, lifting off the ground.
That's when the problems started. Witnesses heard the engine sputter. The plane stopped climbing, barely making it over power lines at the southern edge of the airport. National Transportation Safety Board investigators later determined Sedlacek made an emergency call on the radio but stopped short of saying exactly what had gone wrong.
Crump was sitting in his truck, waiting for a traffic light to change at the intersection of Airport Road and the New Bingham Highway. He saw the plane off to his left as it began banking toward him, only about 100 feet above the ground.
Then, the Piper Lance straightened out and hung in the air, as if about to stall. Crump watched, noting how abnormal the plane appeared. He assumed the pilot had intended to circle the field and land but lacked the power to do so.
The plane rolled over to one side, then dropped from sight behind a building.
Crump's foot hit the accelerator. He ran the red light, crossing through the light morning traffic on state Route 48 onto Welby Park Drive. Another truck followed his path. He pulled to the side of the road once he had a clear view of the huge soccer complex to the south of the airport, expecting to see the aircraft nose-down in the field.
There was no sign of the plane.
The second driver didn't stop, continuing on toward 8200 South. Crump pursued him, making the turn onto 8200 South and catching up where that street makes a right-hand turn to become 4300 West.
Instead of making that turn, both Crump and the other driver drove up over the curb to the left. At full speed they weaved through a narrow gap between two trees, then raced down a small embankment and onto the soccer fields.
No more than 90 seconds had passed. When Crump stepped out of his truck, he saw the other driver dressed in military fatigues. Robert Kelley was already on the phone with 911.
He glanced into the cabin of the plane, seeing Steven Sedlacek. The impact had shattered Sedlacek's jaw, leaving his face and mouth a bloody mess.
"He's pretty banged up and in the fire. I'm pulling him out," Kelley said.
"Don't put yourself in any danger," the dispatcher warned.
"I'm not," he replied.
When the plane first hit the ground, its retractable landing gear had been extended. The force of the impact tore the wheel assemblies off their mounts and left deep gouges in the turf. The left wing had smashed into a lamppost and was torn away. The plane spun violently counterclockwise and skidded to a stop.
It had come to rest facing roughly east, behind a berm. Having just taken off for a cross-country flight, its tanks were full of fuel. A fire sparked in the engine almost immediately.
Because of the damage and fire, Crump and Kelley had to approach from the right side. They opened the door to see a suitcase on top of Kathy Sedlacek.
Kelley handed his phone to Crump, tossed the suitcase aside and then undid the woman's seat belt. He carried her from the front right seat out onto the wing.
"I need to help them get these guys out, this plane is burning," Crump said.
The dispatcher, growing frustrated at the difficulty in getting an exact address, repeated her command to stay clear.
"I need you guys to not put yourself in danger, OK?"
"The address is 4200 West and about 80th South," Crump said. "We're right in the center of the soccer field at the south end of the Airport No. 2, and they need to get here quick. Thank you."
Crump, still holding the phone, climbed into the cabin. As he fumbled with Steven Sedlacek's three-point harness, a wave of heat rolled through the cockpit. It made him turn his head away. That's when he noticed Looper in the back seat.
Looper was badly injured but crawling forward in an effort to escape. Crump wanted to console her, to tell her help was coming, but he found himself drawn again to her unconscious father.
Kelley, meanwhile, returned to the wreckage and tried to find a door on the left side of the plane, only to realize it didn't have one. Instead he went to a rear door on the right side and opened it to retrieve Looper. The influx of air into the plane stoked flames that were beginning to enter the cabin. A second blast of heat hit Crump in the face.
"You probably need to get a Life Flight helicopter coming, too," he said to the dispatcher, his voice shaking. "There looks like there's at least three in there. We got two out now, but we've got one guy that's really trapped bad up against the controls."
She reassured him paramedics were on their way and asked if the injured were breathing.
"They're all conscious, but they're hurt really bad. We've got to get this guy out right now," Crump said.
"Moving him might make things worse. If you're putting any of you in danger, I don't want you to move him," she replied.
Crump didn't respond.
Reflecting on the experience later, Crump said his senses all seemed to focus in on the problem before him.
"Steve just begins to consume me," he said.
The second blast of heat had ignited an almost rage-like anger.
"I guess you might say I'm not going to let the plane win at this moment," Crump recalled. "It's not that the fire and the plane's going to blow apart and get us, it becomes a situation where you're just not going to leave him."
Sedlacek's left hand had fallen over the buckle of his harness during the crash, preventing Crump from seeing it. During a moment of lucidity though, he shifted. Upon finding the latch, Crump released it.
Luggage had wedged behind the left front seat, preventing it from sliding backward. With flames curling up onto the ceiling, he grabbed Sedlacek and started to pull.
"I can't use my feet or my knees, my legs. It's all upper body because my knee's in the other seat," Crump said. "He's got to come over that little console divide between the two seats, and my right leg's down in that foot well, just wrenched down in there with as much leverage as I can get."
Crump tugged and twisted, grunting so loudly the sound came across the open phone line to the 911 dispatcher. He felt Sedlacek's body literally tearing apart. Though he wouldn't admit it for months, Crump also felt his own abdomen splitting internally.
"As I'm pulling him out and I'm just wrenching on him, there's a moment there he just breaks loose of how he's jammed down in there. His legs are still a problem because he's 6-foot-6, he's just too big."
Flames were continuing to grow, entering the cabin from a gap between the firewall and the windscreen. Crump realized he was all alone and feared he was just moments away from being burned alive.
"The sergeant has taken Anna over behind my truck. He comes running back, comes jumping up on the plane and just plows right into my back. (He) grabs a hold of me and he's trying to get a piece of Steve, but I have to get Steve closer, further out toward that doorway. And at some moment there he's watching that fire."
Somehow, knowing Kelley was at his back refocused Crump.
"This is a good moment for the sergeant. He's wanting to get in there, but there's not enough space for him. But he's got such a good grip on me that if that flame comes blowing around there, he's going to pull me off that wing and we're going to have to leave Steve there."
Kelley found a gap at Crump's right shoulder and wedged himself in next to the door. Together, the two men combined their strength to at last get Sedlacek out of the plane.
Other witnesses, seeing a black plume of smoke rising from the wreckage, were starting to reach the crash site from elsewhere on the field.
Crump handed the phone back to Kelley, who stepped away to check on Kathy Sedlacek. Little more than five minutes had gone by since the two strangers had first seen the plane struggling from their places at the stoplight.
Although they both now feel they're out of danger, they're not.
"We're close enough I can hear that plane starting to flex," Crump said. "It's just a moment or two later and all the sudden you hear it crack, a big boil of fuel comes around, that fire comes around and seals the door right off. (It) blows right up over the plane."
Arriving paramedics were afraid to approach as flames jetted more than 10 feet into the air. The fuel tanks, they reasoned, could explode at any moment.
"The rescuers are yelling at them, 'Bring him back! Bring him back further!'" Roberts said. "Mr. Kelley and Mr. Crump both said, 'No, their injuries are too severe. You guys come up here.'"
Looper, too, was screaming, calling out her father's name under the belief he was still inside the plane. Crump went to reassure her, then pulled his truck forward to shield her from the fire.
While the three family members all survived, they were each badly injured. Two medical helicopters responded to the soccer complex, one each for the Sedlaceks. An ambulance transported Looper to the hospital.
Kelley, who had been on his way to Camp Williams when he followed Crump through the intersection, left to attend to his work. Crump remained behind, helping firefighters run hoses.
Reporters spoke with police, firefighters and even some other witnesses who had helped Kelley as he was removing the women from the plane. Crump, though, evaded notice. He did not volunteer himself for interviews.
"When he called me that afternoon, it was terribly emotional for him," Roberts recalled. "He was so distraught. He thought for sure Mr. Sedlacek was going to be paralyzed because he had pulled on him so hard."
Crump went to visit the Sedlaceks in the hospital. Months later, he traveled to their home in Idaho.
"After the accident, when I went to Boise to visit them, I had a lot of guilt from the accident," Crump said. "There's a couple of moments when I'm really torqueing on him bad and I'm inflicting so much pain that he moves back into semiconsciousness for a second or two and gives me a look like, 'What have I ever done to you?' It weighs heavy on me until I get to Boise, get a chance to see how well they're all doing. Really a shock to me."
Sedlacek was not paralyzed, though he'll never fly again.
"He's told me several times, 'Don't be carrying anything around. If you hadn't busted me up, if you hadn't done what you done, I might not be here today,'" Crump said.
Crump also had damage of his own. In the summer of 2015, he had to undergo surgery to repair the hernia caused by his exertion inside the plane. He hadn't told anyone else involved in the rescue about his injury.
Kelley, the Sedlaceks and West Jordan police and fire officials knew of Crump's heroism. Yet his reluctance to speak publicly about the experience led some to question his involvement. Kids in his own neighborhood didn't believe the story until he pointed out pictures proving he was there.
"I really haven't got that much attention," Crump said.
The city of West Jordan honored Kelley, Crump and three others a little over a month after the crash, on Sept. 24, 2014. Crump posed for some photos but declined media interviews.
When speaking about the crash, he continued to defer credit, placing it on Kelley.
"I'd had a statement that I wrote for the military to explain what the sergeant had done," he said.
Kelley, in turn, pressed Crump to send that information to the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission. The Pittsburgh-based organization had been trying to reach him.
"Just before I went and got my operation, they called me," Crump said. "I probably spent a couple hours on the phone with them trying to explain the accident, what we'd both done."
When the commission informed Crump he'd been awarded a Carnegie Medal though, he was irate. He did not want to accept it after learning Kelley was not receiving one as well.
Kelley, as it turned out, was ineligible because of his service in the Utah National Guard. Carnegie Medals are only awarded to civilians who, according to the foundation, voluntarily risk their lives to an "extraordinary degree while saving or attempting to save the life of another person." Emergency responders and members of the military are exempted.
Crump threatened to refuse the award, only relenting at Kelley's insistence.
The Carnegie Hero Fund Commission announced the award on Sept. 24, 2015, exactly a year after West Jordan honored Crump.
"I thanked them for it. I told them I was humbled and appreciated it," Crump said. "I think … what's taken some of the enthusiasm out of it for me is they had awarded 22 people and out of those 22, four people died in the process of rescuing someone."
He's growing more comfortable with the recognition as time passes. Still, Crump can't help but reflect on the confluence of circumstances that placed him inside that burning plane.
"Everyone else that participated in it deserves a lot of credit, but if you move the clock just a little bit here, the coincidence that we were over at the light, just move things around a little bit and it doesn't work," Crump said.
Story, video and photo gallery: https://www.ksl.com
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Sunday, August 10, 2014 in West Jordan, UT
Probable Cause Approval Date: 07/13/2015
Aircraft: PIPER PA 32R-300, registration: N4646F
Injuries: 3 Serious.
NTSB investigators may not have traveled in support of this investigation and used data provided by various sources to prepare this aircraft accident report.
Witnesses located adjacent to the accident site reported that they observed the airplane depart, and that, as it was climbing, they heard the pilot state, “emergency,” several times on the airport’s common traffic advisory frequency; however, the pilot did not specify the nature of the emergency. The airplane subsequently struck a light post and then landed in an open soccer field south of the airport, and a postimpact fire ensued. Other witnesses located at the airport reported that the engine seemed to be backfiring throughout the entire takeoff and accident sequence. The pilot reported that he recalled the initial takeoff sequence and making the distress call; however, he did not recall the nature of the emergency or the accident sequence. Postaccident examination of the airplane, flight control systems, engine, and propeller revealed no evidence of any preimpact mechanical malfunctions. Review of the airplane manufacturer’s takeoff performance charts revealed that, at the time of the accident, the weather and environmental conditions were within the airplane’s takeoff performance limitations. Given that the witnesses reported that the engine was backfiring and that the pilot declared an emergency, it is likely that the engine experienced a partial loss of power during initial climb. Due to the severity of the damage to the engine, the reason for the loss of power could not be determined.
The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident as follows:
A partial loss of engine power during initial climb for reasons that could not be determined due to the severity of the damage to the engine.
HISTORY OF FLIGHT
On August 10, 2014, about 0904 mountain daylight time, a Piper PA-32R-300, N4646F, was destroyed during a forced landing shortly after takeoff from the South Valley Regional Airport (U42), West Jordan, Utah. The airplane was registered to and operated by the pilot under the provisions of Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91. The private pilot and his two passengers sustained serious injuries. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and no flight plan was filed for the personal cross-country flight, which was originating at the time of the accident. The intended destination was Boise, Idaho.
Witnesses located adjacent to the accident site reported that the airplane departed from runway 16. As the airplane was ascending, a radio transmission from the pilot in the blind on the airports Common Traffic Advisory Frequency (CTAF) stated emergency several times, however, they did not specify what the emergency was. Witnesses reported that the airplane struck a light post and subsequently landed in an open soccer field south of the airport where a postimpact fire ensued. Additional witnesses located at the airport reported that the airplane lifted off the ground about 3,500 feet from the approach end of runway 16, and that the airplane never climbed above 100 to 150 feet above ground level. In addition, they reported that the engine seemed to be backfiring throughout the entire takeoff and accident sequence.
Examination of the accident site by a Federal Aviation Administration inspector revealed that the airplane came to rest upright about 0.5 miles south of the departure end of runway 16. All major structural components of the airplane were located within the wreckage debris path. The inboard areas of both wings and the center portion of the fuselage were mostly consumed by fire. The inspector reported that the left outboard wing fuel tank, which was breached, contained blue liquid consistent with 100 low lead fuel. The wreckage was recovered to a secure location for further examination.
In a written statement and telephone conversation with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigator-in-charge (IIC), the pilot reported that prior to the flight; he conducted a preflight check of the airplane, and noticed no abnormalities with the airplane. After the pilot and passengers boarded the airplane, he started the engine and taxied out to the departure end of the runway. During the pretakeoff engine checks, he noticed that one of the magnetos was fouled, and was able to correct it by leaning the mixture. The pilot stated that he obtained the weather via the airports automated weather observing system, and noted that the density altitude was over 7,000 feet. He added that immediately after lifting off of the runway, he made a distress call over the CTAF, however, did not recall anything about the nature of the emergency or the accident sequence.
The six-seat, low-wing, retractable-gear airplane, serial number (S/N) 32R-7680471, was powered by a Lycoming IO-540-K1G5D engine, serial number L-15161-48A, rated at 300 horse power. It was equipped with a McCauley model B3D36C433-O/I-90VSA-1 three bladed adjustable pitch propeller.
Review of the airplane maintenance logbooks revealed that the most recent annual inspection was conducted on July 27, 2013, at an airframe total time of 1,721 hours.
Using the pilot and passenger's reported weights, full fuel, weights of recovered luggage, and an estimated weight of the airplane, it was determined that the airplane would have been under the published maximum gross weight of 3,600 pounds. The actual weight and balance calculations of the airplane were not located within the wreckage, and were most likely consumed by the postimpact fire.
Review of the manufacturer's supplied Flaps Up and 25-degree Flaps Takeoff Performance charts, located in the Pilot's Operating Handbook, revealed that the weather conditions present at the time of the accident were within the airplane's performance capability parameters. Using the manufacturer's supplied takeoff ground roll calculation charts for takeoffs with and without two notches of flaps, reported weather conditions, and maximum gross weight of the airplane, the Flaps Up takeoff ground roll was calculated to be about 4,250 feet, and flaps second notch takeoff ground roll to be about 3,000 feet. Using the manufacturer's supplied Gear Up performance calculation charts, reported weather conditions and maximum gross weight of the airplane, the climb performance with the gear in the "UP" position was calculated to be about 500 feet per minute.
A review of recorded data from the Salt Lake City International Airport automated weather observation station, located 11 miles north of the accident site, revealed at 0853, conditions were wind from 160 degrees at 4 knots, visibility 10 statute miles, few clouds at 14,000 feet, few clouds at 20,000 feet, temperature 23 degrees Celsius, dew point 9 degrees Celsius, and an altimeter setting of 30.20 inches of mercury. Using the reported weather conditions and airport elevation, the calculated density altitude was about 7,447 feet mean sea level (msl), with a pressure altitude of about 4,348 feet msl.
The South Valley Regional Airport (U42) is a non-towered airport with a reported field elevation of 4,606 feet msl. The airport is equipped with one asphalt runway, runway 16 and 34, which is 5,862 feet long and 100 feet wide.
TESTS AND RESEARCH
Examination of the recovered wreckage was performed on October 15, 2014, at the facilities of Air Transport, Phoenix, Arizona, by representatives of Piper Aircraft and Lycoming Engines under the supervision of the NTSB IIC. The examination revealed that the engine and right wing were separated to facilitate wreckage recovery and transport. The forward portion of the fuselage from the baggage compartment to the firewall was mostly consumed by fire. Two forward seats (pilot/copilot) and the left and right rear row seats were found installed. Remains of two shoulder restraints were located within the main wreckage. The cockpit controls, including the throttle, propeller, and mixture levers, instruments, and avionics were damaged and mostly consumed by fire.
The empennage, including the vertical stabilizer, rudder, and horizontal stabilator remained intact with the exception of each outboard section of the horizontal stabilator, which were cut to facilitate wreckage transport. The trim tab remained attached to its respective mount.
The fuel selector valve was found positioned to the right fuel tank. The airframe fuel strainer bowl was removed and found to be full of liquid, which was consistent with 100 low-lead aviation fuel. No debris was noted. Additionally, the fuel screen was free of debris.
Flight control continuity was established from the cockpit controls aft to the rudder and horizontal stabilator, and wing roots. The right wing was cut by recovery personnel and the left wing was thermally damaged. Both aileron bell cranks had control cables attached. The stabilator trim drum was found in a position consistent with slight nose up, or takeoff position.
The recovered engine, a Lycoming IO-540-K1G5D, serial number L-15161-48A, remained intact and exhibited thermal damage throughout. The propeller governor, propeller, magneto, fuel pump, starter, alternator, and oil filter remained attached to the engine. The rocker box covers and all engine accessories were removed. All intake and exhaust rocker arms were intact. The engine crankshaft was rotated by hand using a hand tool attached to the propeller governor mounting pad. Rotational continuity was established throughout the engine and valve train. Thumb compression and suction was obtained on all six cylinders.
The single drive dual magneto exhibited thermal damage, exposing the internal components. All of the internal components were in place, however, were fire damaged. The magneto drive shaft would not rotate by hand. Due to the fire and thermal damage sustained to the magneto assembly and engine, engine-to-magneto timing could not be determined.
The top and bottom spark plugs were removed and examined. The electrodes were undamaged and exhibited normal coloration with the exception with the number 1, 2, and 3 bottom plugs, which were covered in oil. The propeller governor remained attached to the engine. The propeller governor linkage remained attached; however, the control arm appeared to be bent forward. No impact damage was noted surrounding the area of the control arm. The propeller governor screen was free of debris.
For further information regarding the airframe and engine examination, see the NTSB Airframe and Engine Examination Summary Report within the public docket for this accident.
Examination of the propeller was conducted at the facilities of McCauley Propeller Systems, Wichita, Kansas, by representatives of McCauley Propeller Systems and the NTSB IIC on November 20, 2014. The examination of the McCauley B3D36C433-O/I-90VSA-1 three-bladed propeller revealed that the propeller had damage consistent with impact and mid-level rotational energy absorption. The propeller blades had leading edge impact damage, leading edge polishing, and chordwise gouges and paint scratches.
The propeller exhibited no impact signature markings or component positions that would have indicated an angle disagreement between blades at impact. All three propeller blades exhibited indications of functioning in the normal operating range at impact. The exact blade angles at the time of impact were not determined. There was no evidence of any type of propeller failure or malfunction prior to the accident sequence.
The Hartzell propeller governor, part number F-4-11B, was retained and subsequently functionally tested using a test bench. During the bench test, no anomalies were noted that would have precluded normal operation.