MARYLAND HEIGHTS, Ill. (KMOX) – The pilot of a single-engine Piper Cherokee that crashed into Creve Coeur lake while trying to make an emergency landing Wednesday night has died of his injuries.
He’s identified as 78-year-old Russell Hazelton, who lived in Factoryville, Pennsylvania but also kept a home in Town & Country.
Hazelton died overnight at DePaul hospital.
His wife and passenger on the four-seater, Suzanne Hazelton, is hospitalized at DePaul in very critical condition and is said to be on life support.
The plane crashed around 8:40 pm Wednesday as the pilot — en route from Pennsylvania to Creve Coeur airport with a refueling stop in Dayton, Ohio — was apparently attempting to make an emergency landing on the beach.
“One witness indicated that she saw the plane flying over the lake,” said Major Bill Carson, deputy chief with the Maryland Heights police department, during a mid-morning press conference. “She said the engine was sputtering.”
Carson said it appeared to the witness that the pilot was hoping to set the plane down on the beach.
“As the plane came in it actually touched down in the water and flipped over upside down, and then slowly began sinking,” he explained.
First responders arrived within roughly four minutes of receiving the call and immediately jumped into the water to try and reach the victims.
What followed was something described by Carson as a “very valiant” effort to rescue the Hazeltons.
“Additional police officers arrived on the scene,” he told reporters. “They went into the water and they started trying to drag the plane a little bit closer to the shore. They were able to lift the plane up out of the water so that they got the cockpit above water.”
It still took crews several minutes to gain entry to the semi-submerged cockpit using the Jaws of Life.
The FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board have arrived to launch their investigation into the cause of the crash.