A pilot has a number of shovel-wielding kayakers to thank following his rescue from an icy creek in Maryland after his plane plunged into it. Per a release from the Maryland State Police, 71-year-old Steve Couchman of Frederick took off Monday morning in his single-engine Piper Cherokee aircraft from Lee Airport in Edgewater, but he started hearing sputtering soon after his plane took to the skies. Bystanders could also hear the plane sputtering, followed by the sounds of a crash in Beards Creek. John Gelinne, a retired naval officer whose home abuts the water, and his son, Marine officer John Gelinne Jr., were two of those witnesses, and they leaped into action once they figured out what was happening in the 30-degree creek.
"We saw the bottom of the aircraft, very close, and then it skipped and then went in the water," Gelinne Sr. tells WTOP. The two rushed out to a pair of kayaks and grabbed shovels, as paddles wouldn't have been able to navigate through the iced-over waters. "I [used] the shovel to just dig into the ice and just kind of slid the kayak," Gelinne Sr. says. His son adds: "It was pretty comical actually trying to get out there." The father-and-son rescue team, as well as an on-duty local police officer also in a kayak, managed to get to Couchman, who'd exited the plane and was standing on one of the wings.
"The pilot was able to hang on to one of them to stay afloat" until a Maryland Department of Natural Resources boat got to the scene a few minutes later, per the release. Officers cut through the ice and lifted Couchman to safety. He was transported by ambulance to Anne Arundel Medical Center. Lt. Jennifer Macallair of the Anne Arundel County Fire Department tells WBAL that the pilot, who suffered non-life-threatening injuries, may have faced more serious injuries if it hadn't been for how quickly the kayakers got to the scene. "Their efforts were heroic today," she says, adding, per NBC News: "Hypothermia can set in within minutes," so they "probably saved his life." (Read more rescue stories.)