What started as a relaxing morning on the golf course turned into a day Brian Duvall won’t soon forget.
“It was the scariest thing I’ve ever seen,” said Duvall, who was playing in the Monie Beard Golf Classic at CrossWinds Golf Course on Saturday when a rare and historic Curtiss JN-4 single-engine biplane known as Jenny crash-landed about 11:15 a.m. on the No. 4 fairway. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”
The plane, flown by veteran pilot Terry Richardson, took off from runway No. 3 at Bowling Green-Warren County Regional Airport, climbed to 100 feet or so, then began descending toward the golf course that abuts the airport. It clipped a tree on the edge of the fairway before crashing about 400 feet from airport property.
“We saw him coming in low and could see he was distressed,” said Duvall, who was on hole No. 5.
Duvall and his playing partners hurried to the crash scene to find a plane with crumpled wings and extensive damage to its fabric. Duvall approached Richardson in the pilot’s seat and found the man bleeding from a head wound.
“He (Richardson) told me to get him out,” Duvall recalled. “By the time we got there, blood was gushing out. He said the plane might blow. Gas was pouring out. I took him about 30 feet away. Another guy (Drew Beard) came over and gave me a shirt to put over the wound so I could apply pressure to the wound.”
Richardson was able to walk to the ambulance when it arrived to take him to The Medical Center. Med Center Health Executive Director for Marketing and Public Relations Barbara Taylor later said the pilot was listed in fair condition, meaning his vital signs are stable and indications are favorable he will recover.
Chuck Coppinger, a fellow pilot and a member of the Friends of Jenny nonprofit organization that restored the plane, said Richardson was slated to go home Saturday night.
The plane was transported to a hangar at the airport Saturday afternoon, and airport Manager Rob Barnett said the Federal Aviation Administration would begin its investigation Monday.
Coppinger said few pilots were as qualified as Richardson to fly the plane. A Franklin resident, Richardson is a retired U.S. Navy pilot. Earlier this year, he was awarded the Wright Brothers’ Master Pilot Award in recognition of his 50 years of aeronautical experience as an aviator – the highest FAA award for career achievement in aviation.
As for the cause of the accident, Coppingter said: “It’s all speculation at this point. I don’t know if it was engine failure or flight controls.”
Another eyewitness and one of Duvall’s playing partners in the golf scramble, Jim Holland, said: “It sounded like the engine didn’t have power. He was kinda leaning to the side. He came right over the top of us and clipped that tree. The plane spun around and then went down.”
The crash damaged a plane that had become a flying history lesson of sorts and an ambassador for Bowling Green. The Curtiss JN-4 was the first mass-produced World War I flight trainer and carried the first regularly scheduled air mail for the United States Postal Service. In fact, the Jenny restored by the Friends of Jenny organization in Bowling Green bears the same number (38262) as the first JN-4 to carry air mail in 1918.
Richardson and others have flown the plane to shows in Wisconsin, Florida, Alabama and other areas.
Another Friends of Jenny member who has flown the plane, Larry Bailey, described the JN-4 as “a challenging airplane” to fly under the best of conditions. He said Saturday’s surface winds could have caused problems.
“I noticed the surface winds were a little strong,” Bailey said. “I don’t know if that had anything to do with it. The power plant could have had an issue.”
Whatever the cause, Barnett believes the damage to the historic plane is tragic.
“There is substantial damage,” he said. “It’s a shame. It’s very unfortunate.”