Firefighter rescues pilot after plane crashes into top of tree

The aircraft was lodged in the top of a 60-foot tree

airplane lodged in top of tree
John Gregory’s aircraft crashed into the top of a tree on April 22 east of McCall, Idaho. Photo by Valley County Sheriff’s Office.

You know what they say about any landing you can walk away from……

That is what 79-year old John Gregory of McCall, Idaho did after his Piper Cub PA-18 crashed on top of a 60-foot white fir tree east of McCall Monday night. He had to be extracted from the plane and lowered to the ground by firefighters, but after his feet were firmly on top of snow at the base of the tree, he walked away uninjured.

Mr. Gregory had taken off at Challis and was intending to land at the McCall Airport but the plane lost power.

There are a number of facts about this story that are interesting other than the obvious… the plane somewhat intact at the top of the tree. (A piece of a prop and one wheel fell to the ground.)

The Valley County Sheriff’s Office said authorities were notified three ways about the accident at around 8:42 p.m.:

  1. A SPOT locater activation.
  2. US Air Force Rescue Command received notice of an unregistered EPIRB activation.
  3. Mr. Gregory called 911 on his cell phone, saying he had just crashed his plane and he was stuck in the trees in the air.

The Sheriff’s Office and McCall Fire and EMS responded into the snowy mountains on snowmobiles and a local resident brought Sno-Cat.  Two helicopters were dispatched, one from Two Bear Air and an air ambulance from Boise, but it was feared that the rotor wash would dislodge the plane, so it was all on the shoulders of the ground-based personnel.

It was dark so they worked with flashlights and lights from the Sno-Cat.

When I first heard about this accident, a plane and a victim stuck in the top of a tree, I thought that since it was near the McCall Smokejumper Base, a jumper was going to climb the tree and rescue the pilot, since they are trained in tree climbing to retrieve parachutes.

But, one of the McCall volunteer firefighters, Randy Acker, is an arborist and owner of Acker Tree Service. He offered to scale the tree, the Idaho Statesman reported. I checked, and Mr. Acker is not a smokejumper.

Below is an excerpt from an article in the Idaho Statesman. And keep in mind — it was well after dark.

[McCall Fire Captain Brandon] Swain said seven people on the ground watched the tree carefully as Acker climbed it, cutting limbs with a chainsaw as he ascended. He stopped cutting about 20 feet from the top.

“We were nervous,” Swain said. “The majority of the limbs at the top were helping support that plane.”

There was no way to know how hard the plane hit the tree or whether the tree was seriously compromised. But the plane didn’t budge while Acker worked to get the pilot out, Swain said.

Acker secured the plane to the tree with rope webbing. He then got the pilot into a safety harness so he could be lowered to the ground. Jordan Ockunzzi and Swain helped Gregory down through a process called belaying.

The Sheriff’s Office is not releasing the exact location of the incident, and is asking the public to avoid the area since a gust of wind could cause the aircraft to crash, again, this time to the ground.

airplane lodged in top of tree
John Gregory’s aircraft crashed into the top of a tree on April 22 east of McCall, Idaho. Photo by Valley County Sheriff’s Office.

One thought on “Firefighter rescues pilot after plane crashes into top of tree”

  1. Regardless of what led to the engine failure, I would say that John did one hell of a job! Buy that man a beer! 🍺

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