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Local plane crash survivors: 'God was good'
Updated on: 04.11.12

The last thing Seth Rainwater remembers before stepping out of the sheared-off plane was a blur of trees, coming at him at about 45 miles per hour.

“And they were big trees,” he said Wednesday from his hospital bed near Tupelo, Miss., “so I wasn’t sure what was going to happen. I was just like, ‘Well, Lord, take care of me.’ And I blacked out for about three minutes.”

When he came to, he and pilot Gary Huett of Cordry Lake were crawling out of what was left of the plane, in the yard of Bobby and Cindy Nelson’s home in Iuka, Miss.

“Here was this guy, we were right in his yard,”  Huett said. “He showed up three minutes before. He’d just got home. … He said he was calling 911.”

Emergency responders found Rainwater, 33, of Morgantown, sitting on a bench, a little disoriented from a blow to his head, which damaged his sinus cavity.

But Huett, 61, walked away from the crash Tuesday afternoon with nothing but a sore side and shoulder, from hanging sideways in his seat belt in the battered, wingless plane.

“God was good,” Rainwater said. “I’ll just say that.”

Tishomingo County Sheriff Glenn Whitlock told the Associated Press that the men were flying from New Orleans back to Indiana when they had to make the emergency landing at about 5:30 p.m. near Mississippi Highway 25. That’s about 5 miles west of the Alabama and 20 miles south of the Tennessee state lines.

Huett, a forensic animator for court cases, and Rainwater, owner of Carpe Diem photography/videography, were traveling on business, Huett said.

Huett had rented the plane, owned by Siherb Aviation Corp. in Franklin, from Franklin Flying Field on Monday.

He said the fuel gauges for both tanks were faulty.

Federal Aviation Administration officials are investigating the crash, said FAA spokeswoman Kathleen Bergen.

“One tank sort of went dry and started sputtering, and we switched to the other, and headed for an airport,” Huett recounted from the hospital Wednesday. “And about three or four minutes later, the other tank went dry, and we were about 4 miles from the airport and we had to put it down in a field.

“And down here in Mississippi, it’s not like Indiana … where you have a lot of wide open fields. You got trees all over the place, so it was a very short field.”

He had to come in steep to miss a tall tree in his way and got the wheels on the ground, but the field ended before the plane stopped. “The field ended in a bunch of trees,” he said. “We hit the trees at probably 50, 60 miles per hour, tore the wings off, fuselage went through a bunch of trees probably, oh, 150 feet of trees, and then came to rest up about 50 feet from a house.”

Huett didn’t lose consciousness, he said. He watched the trees whiz by.

“I was surprised I didn’t even put my head down. I don’t know why. I just rode it out.”

He said he has flown for 18 years, and hadn’t come close to any landing like this.

“You just deal with it,” he said, about what was going through his head when he discovered they were out of fuel. “Called mayday and told them where I was, and looked for a field.”

He and Rainwater had just returned from the crash site Wednesday afternoon, where they retrieved Rainwater’s cell phone.

“God was really with us, to get through that,” Huett said, “because the way the fuselage … is, if it had hit head-on one of those trees, it would have been a much worse situation. But it didn’t.”

Rainwater’s wife, Jamie, and his older brother, Joe, drove down to Mississippi Tuesday night. After his CT scan results are received, he expects to start for home as early as Thursday afternoon — but this time in a car.

The experience hasn’t shaken Rainwater’s faith in flying, through, or in his pilot, who “did a wonderful job in a bad situation.”

“Absolutely,” Rainwater said, about his chances of getting back in a plane. “I mean, you can’t fall off your bike and not get back on, right?”

-- Sara Clifford, Brown County Democrat, with Joseph S. Pete, Daily Journal (Johnson County)

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