How quick thinking was critical in saving pilot after plane crashes into icy Md. creek

During a plane crash, such as the one in Anne Arundel County, Maryland, on Monday, a pilot and transportation expert said quick thinking is necessary in these rare and unexpected incidents.

Steve Couchman, 71, crashed into the icy waters of Beards Creek in Edgewater moments after taking off from Lee Airport the day after Christmas.

“You’re just starting to get momentum and then there’s silence. The engine sputters and then the propeller stops. This pilot was in a very vulnerable situation,” pilot and WTOP anchor Dan Ronan said. “He lost his engine immediately after takeoff and that’s the most dangerous period to have anything mechanically go wrong,” he added.

Ronan often flies out of the same airport Couchman took off from and has flown the small plane Couchman crashed in.

He credited Couchman’s quick thinking and proper checklist preparation before takeoff for his survival. “He had the calmness to ditch the plane into the water and try for the most survivable place to land,” Ronan said.

Fortunately, Ronan said, these kinds of crashes don’t happen often; but when they do, every moment counts.

Ronan said Couchman’s decision to open the plane door as he went down played a major role in allowing him to get out before his plane hit the water.

“It’s identical to what happened to Captain Sully,” said Ronan, comparing the crash to the 2009 Hudson crash-landing miraculously made by Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger shortly after taking off from LaGuardia Airport.

“He took the best possible outcome, and thankfully, there were folks there who were able to save him,” Ronan said.

John Gelinne, a 30-year Navy veteran, and his son watched as the plane came down over their home, barely missing it before landing in Bear Creek.

They quickly grabbed kayaks and made their way out on the ice. The father and son kept Couchman afloat until rescue crews arrived.

“They showed a lot of courage jumping into the icy waters,” Ronan said. “It’s really remarkable.”

Melissa Howell

Melissa Howell joined WTOP Radio in March 2018 and is excited to cover stories that matter across D.C., as well as in Maryland and Virginia. 

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