Five people are in stable condition and one is in critical condition after a Sunday afternoon plane crash in the town of Wilson.
The plane was carrying a pilot and five skydivers when it crashed at about
2:20 p.m. in a wooded area at the end of a 3,000-foot grass runway at Hollands International Airport on Beebe Road in Wilson. The group belonged to Frontier Skydivers Club, which is based at the airport.
All six were transported — three by Mercy Flight helicopters and three by Rural Metro and Wilson Volunteer Fire Company ambulance — to the Erie County Medical Center. Names and other information will be released today, the Niagara County Sheriff’s Department said.
Niagara County Sheriff James R. Voutour said the plane had climbed about 30 to 40 feet, barely above the height of the trees surrounding the runway. In fact, those trees may have saved the six peoples’ lives, Voutour said. The trees softened the landing of the plane.
“It’s nothing short of a miracle,” Voutour said. “The plane is completely destroyed. Our first look at it, we were amazed anyone is alive.”
The plane crashed upside down and broke off into four or five pieces, Voutour said. South Wilson, Wilson, Olcott and Miller Hose fire companies responded to the scene.
Some local people were in the field near the crash site, Voutour said. They were able to pull all six people out of the plane, notify authorities and even perform CPR on one of the survivors.
“They did an excellent job,” Voutour said.
The Cessna 185, a six-person plane, was heading west and crashed upon takeoff, said John Huber, safety and training instructor for Frontier Skydivers, which had rented the plane. The pilot has been flying for Frontier roughly 40 years and was a former skydiver, Huber added.
There was no explosion from the crash, as these kind of planes carry the fuel in the wings, Voutour said.
The all-grass runway stretches from the northeast corner of Nelson and Beebe roads and extends southwest. Frontier was taking up its seventh skydiving group of the day, Huber said. Until further notice the airport would be closed, he said.
With about 35 paid members and a host of skydiving students, Huber said the Frontier club is a big family. All of the members had been affected by the crash. At least one of the five jumpers was a student.
“Club members are all depressed,” Huber said.
The Federal Aviation Administration is investigating the crash, Voutour said. FAA officials were on the scene Sunday, but when the investigation will be complete is unknown.
“But they did speak to the pilot by phone,” Voutour said.
Frontier Skydivers formed in the 1950s. Both Voutour, a Wilson native, and Town Supervisor Joseph Jastrzemski said they did not remember anything like a plane crash happening in the town of roughly 1,200 people. Voutour said there was no telling yet if the people were on board were locals.
“People come from all over to skydive here,” he said.
Huber said skydiving is still safe, as there are more car, snowmobile and motorcycle accidents. Huber has been with Frontier for 14 years, during which the club hasn’t had any major issues.
“There’s the occasional sprain, broken ankle, that’s about it,” Huber said.
Huber thanked the emergency teams for their response, which he called “excellent.”
“It was amazing, very well coordinated,” Huber said.