Shawn Kinmartin is counting his blessings today. The plane he was flying crash landed in rural Monroe County, but Shawn didn’t get a scratch.
While flying a Cesena 182 high above Festus, Mo., Kinmartin watched as six parachutists bailed out of the plane and made their way back to the Earth. Right after the sixth and last jumper left the plane, Kinmartin heard a thud and realized the plane’s controls weren’t properly responding. That last jumper accidently banged the plane’s elevator, damaging the mechanism which controls the plane’s lift. That jumper was not injured, but Kinmartin was left alone in the air trying to keep his plane airborne.
“I was having trouble maintaining altitude and the plane’s speed had dropped to 80 mph,” said Kinmartin.
He radioed the Festus Memorial Airport to report his situation. This is the airport which Kinmartin took off from earlier in the day. The initial plan was to have Kinmartin attempt an emergency landing at that airport. Upon further analysis, it was decided to have the plane fly east over the Mississippi River and into Monroe County, Illinois. “We knew there was a lot of open farmland over here,” said Kinmartin. The Festus airport quickly got another plane into the air and that pilot flew over rural Valmeyer and located a soft spot for Kinmartin to land – a farm field with stalks about 3-ft. tall. This area is located near the intersection of B Road and Berger Road, between Bluff and Levee Road (locals know this area as Mitchie).
Kinmartin struggled with the controls, but was able to fly over rural Valmeyer. “I had a tough time getting the plane to 2,000 ft.,” said Kinmartin, referring to the minimum height to safely jump with the plane’s remaining parachute. The airport soon gave him the go-ahead to bail out. He locked the steering wheel for a hard turn, opened the plane’s door and jumped out leaving the damaged plane circling in the sky. When he saw the orange nylon of his parachute open, he smiled knowing he would make it through the day. Kinmartin landed in one of Bob Scheibe’s fields. The plane crashed in John and Dave Walter's corn field.
“I saw a plane circling overhead,” said Scheibe. “And then I saw what initially looked like a hot-air balloon coming down. As it got closer to landing, I could tell it was a parachute.” Scheibe then watched as the plane continued to circle around and around as it lost altitude. Scheibe then saw the plane crash at a nearby field. “That young man was very lucky to be alive,” Scheibe added.
A Monroe County Ambulance, sheriff’s deputies and firefighters from Valmeyer and Maeystown were dispatched to the scene. Kinmartin was able to make cell phone contact with Festus Memorial Airport and let them know he was not injured, but the plane was totaled. County paramedics checked Kinmartin over, but he declined any medical attention. Firefighters secured the scene and made sure the plane would not catch on fire. John and Dave Walter soon arrived. Kinmartin greeted them with a smile. He recounted to them his story. The farmers were just happy the young man was okay. The plane was left about a 50-yard swathe of flattened corn stalks.
FAA investigators arrived on the scene after 6 p.m. to begin their required investigation into the accident. Kinmartin grew up in Buffalo, NY, but now resides in St. Louis. He attends SIU Carbondale. Kinmartin credits the school's outstanding flying program for giving him the training to handle today's situation.