.. ..CENTRE, Ala. — A Centre, Ala., woman urged people to pray for the pilot whose plane hit her house Saturday afternoon.
Kelia Burleson, her husband and their two young children got out of their 13 Oakview Court home unscathed. The pilot, Harley McGatha, was not so lucky. He was listed late Saturday in critical condition at University of Alabama at Birmingham Hospital, officials there said.
McGatha was severely burned in the incident, witnesses said.
The plane went down around 1:30 p.m. EDT soon after taking off from Centre Municipal Airport, which is near the crash scene.
All that remained of the plane was its charred frame.
Area resident Ricky Wright said he pulled McGatha from the plane.
“The man was on fire,” Wright said. “I pulled him out as best I could. He would have done the same for me.”
Burleson, who lives in the home with her husband, Brian Burleson, and two children, ages 3 and 2, said they had just put the kids down for
a nap when the crash occurred.
“I just got home from work about 10 minutes earlier,” said Burleson. “My husband had put them down for a nap and was lying down with them. They had just fallen asleep apparently.
“I came in and started talking to my husband and we heard an airplane taking off, heard the acceleration and then we heard a popping and sort of a boom sound that didn’t really shake the house or anything,” she said.
Burleson said they have lived at their current residence for about a year.
“We’ve been very happy here,” she said. “It is a good neighborhood. Everybody kind of looks out for
each other and you just don’t expect a plane to fall on your house. Even living this close to the airport, we didn’t think anything like this could happen.”
Fortunately, their children came out unscathed.
“They are fine,” noted Burleson. “My mother and sister are watching them. I don’t think it has really registered that something is wrong because they were woken up from a nap.”
She urged citizens to keep McGatha and his family in their prayers.
“People have been real gracious offering help and anything we needed,” she said. “We are going to stay with mom and dad tonight and if we need further accommodations, we have those to arrange too.”
Vicki Griffin, another neighbor, witnessed the incident.
“Someone hollered ‘He isn’t going to make it’ and then it crashed,” Griffin said.
Neighbor Edwin Gossett said he was cooking out on his back deck at 14 Oakview Court when he saw the plane coming toward the area. He said he dove behind his grill to keep from being hurt.
“The pilot was saying ‘What happened?! What happened?!’ and wanted something for pain,” Gossett said. He witnessed Wright pull McGatha out of the plane. He said McGatha was still on fire and he grabbed a water hose to spray him down.
According to the FAA Web site, McGatha owns two Piper airplanes, both with single engines.
Centre Mayor Tony Wilkie described McGatha as someone who is “very well loved in the community, a leader in the community.”
Wilkie said McGatha helped secure funding for the area’s new airport.
McGatha’s construction firm also built the SPLOST founded South Rome youth center that opened last year on East Main Street. McGatha donated $100,000 toward the project.
Ricky Little, field coordinator, Alabama Emergency Management Agency, said the National Transportation Safety Board has turned the investigation over to the FAA.
Rome News Tribune