The pilot of a skydiving plane was the sole fatality in a crash in central Illinois Saturday after the 12 passengers aboard jumped from the aircraft and parachuted to safety, the State Journal-Register reported.
Authorities said the pilot, 30-year-old Brandon Sparrow, saved the lives of residents on the ground by steering the plane to avoid hitting any houses when he crashed in Taylorville, Ill. around 11:30 a.m.
The twin-engine Beechcraft 18 landed in a backyard barely 75 feet wide, Mayor Greg Brotherton told the newspaper. The plane was destroyed in the crash.
“It was either an act of God, or the pilot himself put the plane down in the back yard,” Brotherton said. “We should be thankful because that plane could have hit a house and harmed others.”
Ashley Basso, a resident, told the Illinois Herald & Review the pilot dumped most of his fuel and narrowly missed the closely-spaced homes.
“That makes him a hero in my book,” Basso said.
The plane had taken off from the Taylorville airport earlier that morning, and the jump was part of a skydiving event hosted by the Mid-America Sport Parachute Club, according to the Journal-Register.
According to the Associated Press, one of the skydivers who escaped from the plane rushed to the crash site after landing and told police that others had parachuted out. Conflicting media reports placed the number of skydivers at both eight and 12.
Gloria Johnson told the AP she was taking groceries out of her car when the plane crashed in her neighbor's yard, hitting a tree and raining debris over the area.
"[I] just heard this great big sound ..." Johnson said. "It went boom and it just went down over there next door....There were plane parts everywhere, pieces all up and down Rich Street."
The National Transportation Safety Board will handle the investigation into the cause of the crash.