Man escapes plane crash with minor injuries

Homemade craft flips on runway

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A half-size replica of a World War II fighter jet veered off a runway and somersaulted onto its cockpit Friday at Steamboat Springs Airport.

The plane's owner and pilot, 56-year-old Terry Plonta of Steamboat Springs, suffered minor injuries in the crash.

About 9:40 a.m., Plonta was piloting his homemade F4U Corsair down the runway.

He was not trying to take off but was testing newly installed air brakes, airport manager Matthew Grow said.

After traveling about 1,500 feet down the runway, Plonta lost control of the plane, which started to oscillate back and forth, Grow said. The plane then veered off the left side of the runway and hit a sign. The plane somersaulted forward and landed upside down on its cockpit.

The airport's emergency response team arrived at the scene immediately after the crash, and firefighters with Steamboat Springs Fire and Rescue arrived about five minutes later, Grow said.

When firefighters approached Plonta, he was conscious and talking and did not appear to be disoriented, fire department incident commander Scott Hetrick said.

Plonta could not get out of the plane because its weight rested on the cockpit. Responders tied a sling around the plane and lifted it mechanically until they could remove him.

Plonta was taken to Yampa Valley Medical Center, where he was treated for minor injuries and released.

There was no immediate fire danger at the crash scene, in part because the fuel tank did not rupture, Hetrick said. Firefighters nevertheless hosed the area around plane as a precaution.

Witnesses to the accident estimated the plane was traveling about 30 mph when it crashed. Information about why the plane lost control was not immediately available.

Because there were no serious injuries and the plane was not trying to take off, the Federal Aviation Administration has labeled the crash an "incident" rather than an "accident," Grow said.

Plonta had spent several years building the plane and had flown it before, Grow said.

"Terry's definitely passionate about the plane," Grow said. "It's a testament to his building ability that he walked away and that there were no fuel leaks, although I'm sure he'll be sore in the morning."

The airport was closed for more than an hour after the acccident, and several planes were circling, waiting to land or were rerouted to Yampa Valley Regional Airport.

--To reach Kristin Bjornsen, call 879-1502.

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