A DC-3 with two pilots and one passenger aboard made an emergency landing, clipping trees and sliding 100 yards on a street in a residential neighborhood in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on Monday, without impacting homes or (directly) injuring anyone one the ground. After the left engine caught fire shortly after takeoff the crew decided they wouldn't be able to return the airplane and its 3,200 pounds of granite cargo to Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport, or make the beach. The crew told The Associated Press they decided "to drop the nose and take what [they] could get." They aimed for "the biggest, widest spot" of a (previously) tree-abundant and quiet section of Northeast 56th Street, hoping the trees would help dissipate energy during the crash. The results were impressive. The pilot and co-pilot were identified as Charles Riggs and Charles Wirt and the passenger as Hector Espinoza. They were headed with their granite cargo for the Bahamas when circumstance motivated them to change their plans. Of the outcome, Wirt told The Associated Press "I was very pleasantly surprised, I thought we would at least take out somebody's parked car." Riggs told local news, "It flew perfectly right until we impacted the tree and then the ground ... It ruptured the fuel tanks." Despite injuries sustained during the crash all aboard escaped before fire engulfed the cabin and destroyed the aircraft. Two people on the ground, an elderly couple, were hospitalized with injuries indirectly related to the crash (according to firefighters who spoke to The Associated Press). Aware of his fortune, Riggs, who told reporters he flew helicopters in Vietnam, added, "I never really crashed an airplane before, but I've been shot down a couple times ... I am really grateful for not hitting anyone on the ground."
The copilot (Wirt) suffered a chipped bone in his neck and a compression fracture to one of his vertebrae. He told reporters yesterday he was able to escape the wreckage by climbing out the co-pilot's window. Wirt said pilot Riggs was knocked momentarily unconscious and that he saw "somebody" help Riggs escape. Espinoza broke out a cockpit window. Riggs and Espinoza suffered ligament damage, both in their right knees. The aircraft was a version of the DC-3 that was modified for Navy use and built between 1945 and 1946. "There are only six [of this type] in the current registry," FAA spokesman Greg Martin told Florida Today. A broken fuel line is suspected.