For the second straight Saturday afternoon, there was danger in the sky over rural Monroe County.
Danger came in the form of two small tornadoes near Fults and Ames on June 7. This past Saturday, a 21-year-old pilot parachuted out of his malfunctioning skydiving plane, which eventually crashed in a field south of Valmeyer.
Fortunately, no injuries were reported out of either dangerous situation.
“It’s kind of a freaky thing that happened,” Festus Memorial Airport manager Steve Riggle said of Saturday’s crash.
Sometime after 2 p.m., pilot Shawn Kinmartin, a Southern Illinois University Carbondale student, was flying a 1958 model single-engine Cessna 182 out of the Festus, Mo., airport with four skydivers aboard.
All four skydivers had successfully jumped out of the plane and landed safely in Festus before the pilot noticed a problem.
According to Riggle, the last of the skydivers apparently caused damage to the plane’s elevator, located on the horizontal tail, on the way out when his reserve chute got caught on the door as he was jumping. This triggered the “free bag” portion of the skydiver’s equipment to shoot out and catch on part of the tail, resulting in damage to the plane.
“The kid did everything he could. He kept it together pretty well, given the situation,” Riggle said of Kinmartin.
With the plane’s elevator damaged, the ability to move it up and down was compromised. Kinmartin discussed the problem with Festus airport officials, and an airport was flown alongside the Cessna to assess damage.
That’s when the decision was
made to veer the aircraft over to rural Monroe County and have Kinmartin parachute out, Riggle said.
“A safe landing was pretty much out of the question at that point,” he told the Republic-Times.
The plane was at an altitude of between 10,500 and 11,000 feet for skydiving, but Kinmartin guided the aircraft to a minimum safe jumping height (2,000 feet) before calmly parachuting into a field in the area of B Road and Berger Road south of Valmeyer.
“There was a better possibility of not hitting anything by putting (the plane) down over there,” Riggle said.
The unmanned plane spiraled and crashed into the field. Valmeyer Fire Department and Monroe County Sheriff’s Department personnel responded shortly after 2:30 p.m. to the report of a plane down in that area.
Kinmartin said he was not injured and there was no fire as a result of the crash, which occurred directly east of the Festus airport.
“Apparently the plane landed in a way that the crash didn’t rupture the fuel tank,” Riggle said. “It all pretty much worked out for the best.”
The Federal Aviation Administration was called in to investigate the crash.