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Pilot, 89, unhurt in crash

NORTH MYRTLE BEACH --Barbara and Len McCahill found the right spot to build their dream home two years ago - along the Intracoastal Waterway in a gated community and in clear view of the planes landing along Runway 5 at the Grand Strand Airport.

"What sold us on the property was watching the planes come in," Barbara said.

The couple moved in just three weeks ago but never imagined that watching those planes come in would mean one would come right toward their house shortly after 3 p.m. Friday.

"It's not exactly the thing we want in our backyard," she said. "All I kept saying was 'It can't be coming to the house. It can't be coming to the house.'"

But it was, until Martin Geraghty, pilot of the 1979 Piper PA-28, yanked the steering wheel and veered off to the shore of where the McCahill's property meets the waterway. A little more inland, and the 89-year-old pilot from Englewood, Fla., might have died, the McCahills said. A little more toward the deeper end of the waterway, and his cockpit would have been submerged completely.

Instead, the pilot who has had his certification for 12 years, according to federal aviation records, was able to walk away from the crash with cuts to his hands and arms.

Geraghty, who could not be reached for comment, was flying from Florida to Cape Cod, said Rick Meres, chief warrant officer for the Coast Guard. The pilot refused treatment and was taken to a nearby hotel.

Geraghty made a missed approach at landing and was trying to gain more altitude to make another attempt when a gust of wind got under one of the wings and flipped the aircraft, said Kathleen Bergen, public affairs manager for the Federal Aviation Administration in Atlanta, citing reports gathered from Geraghty and the air traffic controller at Grand Strand Airport.

Meres said Geraghty had intended to land at the airport, refuel and spend the night. There were about 15 gallons of fuel left in the plane and little fuel spilled into the waterway, Meres said. The Coast Guard was also sent to confirm that the plane was not blocking the channel.

The National Transportation Safety Board must give clearance before the plane can be removed, said Nicole Aiello, spokeswoman for North Myrtle Beach.

She said the plane was anchored and it will be the responsibility of the pilot to get the plane removed.

Bergen said it may take a couple of weeks for the FAA to examine the aircraft for mechanical problems, interview Geraghty and review the records related to the plane before it issues a final report.

Previously published reports show a May 2004 crash into the Waterway near the Grand Strand Airport involvinga pilot on his way to the Atlantic Beach Bikefest. Also, in January 2003, a pilot of a single-engine plane lost control of the plane while it was taking off.

In May 1997, a pilot died while trying to land his Cessna Skylane RG II.

Officials then believed crosswinds played a part in the crash, according to previously published reports.

On Friday, Marcelo Pereira was working half a mile from the crash site and said he and fellow workers of Majestic Homes were used to hearing planes land at the local airport, but this one was different.

"We all thought something went wrong," he said.

"It was something different than you normally hear."

Len McCahill said that coincides with what he heard and with what Geraghty told him.

"He said he was trying to get some additional altitude," McCahill said.

"He was pretty shook."

Staff writer Lisa Fleisher contributed to this report.

Contact JASON M. RODRIGUEZ at 910-754-9868 or jrodriguez@thesunnews.com.

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