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Pilot rescued from fiery plane crash in Redlands

Good Samaritans helped rescue a pilot after his small plane crashed next to Redlands Municipal Airport on Monday morning.

September 19, 2011 12:07:36 AM PDT
Good Samaritans helped rescue a pilot after his small plane crashed next to Redlands Municipal Airport on Monday morning.

Witnesses said they saw the plane performing acrobatic maneuvers overhead and then flying low just moments before it hit the ground.

"All of a sudden he came down, down, down. He was trying to pull up then you hear boom right in the street", said witness Tim Johnson, who was operating a forklift at the time.

Authorities say the small biplane crashed in the street just beyond the runway and to the left of the hangars just before 9 a.m.

Upon impact, the plane slid about 150 feet down the roadway, and in the process, clipped a parked car before coming to a stop and bursting into flames.

Workers at a nearby brewery helped pull the 45-year-old pilot Paul Sowell to safety moments before flames completely engulfed the plane.

"I would imagine that considering he hit the road that if he was low fuel or couldn't make it back to the airport he was trying to minimize everything - any potential damage," said Joe Savage, who along with a co-worker saved Sowell.

Savage and his co-worker then turned back around to help douse the flames.

"Ran over there, and the guys from the brewery ran over there and pulled him out," Johnson said. "We tried to put out the fire with extinguishers."

The pilot was hospitalized with a laceration to his head and back pain.

The National Transportation Safety Board was notified and the Federal Aviation Administration will investigate the cause of the crash.

It's unclear if Sowell was practicing his maneuvers as part of next month's air show at the airport in Redlands.