12/04/05 — Pilot recounts recounts plane crash

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Pilot recounts recounts plane crash

By Andrew Bell
Published in News on December 4, 2005 2:08 AM

Only 600 feet above the ground, Kent Larsen of Pikeville could only wait for the inevitable to occur.

In the distance, the New Bern Airport runway was awaiting his approach. However, after losing the engine in his Cessna aircraft, Larsen's runway would be the Nuese River.

The engine would not restart using an emergency procedure. That only left 30 to 40 seconds before impact into the river. As time ran out, Larsen maneuvered the right rudder which caused the plane to turn sharply upstream.

The maneuver prevented the Cessna from hitting the bank head on, but during the turn the right wing tip hit the water at 80 mph causing the plane to cartwheel and roll over.

Fully strapped into his harness rig, Larsen, 68, realized there was no chance for escape. The sound of a large crash echoed throughout the plane.

At 1 p.m. on Nov. 16, Larsen's world faded to black.

When color did reappear, Larsen said he was surrounded by a freezing blue. He said he realized he was outside of the plane in the water.

"It was surreal, like one of those underwater scenes with the light from the surface," he said.

When Larsen's head broke above water, he said he was 10 feet from the Cessna. Since the aircraft was sinking, he said he could only hold on to the wheel for a few seconds before he was forced to find a new life preserver.

"Upstream, about 50 yards away, there was an old wood post, a piling, sticking up. Why it was there, I have no idea, but I went on my back -- clothes were a real drag -- and started kicking and side-arm swimming," Larsen said.

Larsen said if he had not made it to the wooden post, the temperature of the water would have caused hypothermia and possibly caused him to drown. He said he could not accept that option.

"From time to time, I saw the faces of my children and the love they have for me and I didn't want them to lose their dad," he said.

Going in and out of consciousness, Larsen said he could hear sirens screaming from a distance. Above, a police helicopter tried to provide assistance. It was not until a fire department rescue boat approached, Larsen said, that he was retrieved from the frigid water.

Whether from his 13 years of flight experience or service in the Marine Corps, Larsen said he is still baffled how he lived through his accident. That only leaves superstition to answer the question on his mind.

"God has a monthly quota for Marines and I guess it was already filled by the 16th," he said. "He can only take so many Marines into heaven at a time because we raise so much hell."

Following his retrieval, Larsen was airlifted to Pitt Memorial Hospital in Greenville. With only a sore neck, he said he was released shortly after being admitted.

In the weeks after his accident, Larsen has taken to the air once again to, as he described it, "get back on the horse that throwed me." As for his Cessna, it will be an aircraft that Larsen will probably never get to fly again.

Representatives from Atlanta Air Recovery & Storage, based in Griffin, Ga., worked with crane operators from Danco Marine to remove Larsen's Cessna from the Neuse River Wednesday morning.

The recovery process lasted nearly an hour and a half. Ron Powers, Atlanta Air Recovery general manager, said it only took 30 minutes to retrieve the plane intact.

"The FFA and the National Transportation Safety Board will do the investigation at our shop and they'll determine the cause of the accident," Powers said. "They'll run the motor and see if it's working and they'll troubleshoot from there."

Corky Smith of the National Transportation Safety Board did confirm he is the lead investigator in Larsen's crash, but he said he could not answer any other questions.

Speaking of the investigation, Smith said, "It's ongoing and it will be ongoing until we look at the plane in Griffin."

Larsen is an instructor pilot, but had no one with him on the 16th.