By Jim Suhr Associated Press
ST. LOUIS — A 21-year-old pilot who successfully parachuted from his crashing plane after unloading a group of skydivers showed remarkable poise under pressure, the manager of the airport where the skydiving school is based said Monday.
Shawn Kinmartin’s own skydive on Saturday marked the first time he jumped out of plane, even though the Southern Illinois University student worked as a pilot for Fly Free Skydiving at Festus Memorial Airport near Crystal City, Missouri, south of St. Louis.
The Cessna 182 that Kinmartin was flying went haywire when the reserve parachute of one of the last skydivers to leave the plane accidentally deployed and got snared on a part of the aircraft’s tail section that controls its climb and descent, the Federal Aviation Administration said.
Kinmartin said that as he wrestled with the plane’s controls more than 11,000 feet above ground, the pilot of a second plane he had asked to give his plane a look reported the damage.
Unable to return to the airport, Kinmartin guided the plane to a remote agricultural stretch across the Mississippi River in Illinois and bailed out using a parachute he had on standby for just such emergencies. He said he was only about 2,000 feet up when he jumped.
The plane spiraled into a corn field just southwest of Valmeyer as Kinmartin floated down and completed his maiden jump.
“I finally had the rush of skydiving,” Kinmartin told St. Louis’ KSDK-TV. “If I was inside the plane when it crashed the way it did, I wouldn’t be standing here.”
Kinmartin didn’t respond to a Monday email requesting an interview, and the skydiving school didn’t respond to phone messages seeking comment.
Steve Riggle, a 57-year-old pilot who manages the small airport south of St. Louis, said Kinmartin showed cool under pressure, especially for such a young pilot.
“I would have to say I’d have given him really high marks,” Riggle said Monday. “The way he was talking on the radio — you could tell a little stress in his voice, but for the most part he kept it together. Under the circumstances, I think he handled it very well.”