77-year-old pilot not hurt
Joe McLean, Reporter
CLAY COUNTY, Fla. – It was not just an udder day when a plane crashed Wednesday in a Clay County cow pasture.
News4JAX learned of the plane crash, which happened off County Road 214 between Keystone Heights and Melrose, shortly before 10:30 a.m.
Fortunately, the pilot, 77-year-old David Lahman, was not injured.
Lahman, a pilot of more than 60 years, told News4JAX that he was taking a small aircraft from his home of Port St. Lucie, Florida, to an airfield in Raleigh, North Carolina, and his intention was to stop at Keystone Heights Airport to refuel, but a GPS error put him away from the actual airstrip.
“I called the local airport and said, ‘Are you a grass strip?’ because I couldn’t see a runway? But nobody responded back. So I figured I’d take a beautiful field when I can,” Lahman said.
Lahman said the conditions were perfect to land in the flat, wide grass field he spotted, but the only problem was the field was occupied by livestock.
“Well, I was coming in for a landing, and they just seemed to run out in front of me, and so then I tried to turn it, and it wouldn’t really turn, and they just stood there, looking at me,” Lahman said.
That’s when, he said, he braked and swerved to avoid the cows, flipping and totaling the plane in the process. But he and the livestock walked away unharmed.
“I figured, ‘Well, it’s either hitting two cows, three cows or five cows or whatever it was and two donkeys — or swerve and miss them’ which I did,” Lahman said. “If it hadn’t been for a couple of farm animals, there’d been no event at all.”
Karlo Vuckovic was working on the property at the time and heard the crash.
“I heard the big bang, and I said, ‘That sound like somebody hit somebody.’ And then I walked over to the corner, and I saw something very strange,” Vuckovic said.
He said his mind immediately went to the recent Chinese balloon that was shot down by the United States military, but he quickly realized it was a single-engine plane and jumped into action.
“I ran through the barbed wire here quickly, over there, and I ran and saw the man coming out, and I asked if he’s OK. He said, ‘Yes.’ I said, ‘Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord. He’s OK,’” Vuckovic said. “It was a great joy for me to see the man walking and was in one piece.”
The Clay County Sheriff’s Office and the Florida Highway Patrol responded to the scene.
The first call Lahman made was to his wife, assuring her that he is OK and will live to fly another day. He said in his more than six decades, of piloting, he had never had any issues — yet alone crashes — before Wednesday morning.
“I do feel lucky,” Lahman said. “I feel fortunate, very fortunate.”
News4JAX spoke with another pilot who has been flying in the area for more than 15 years. He confirmed to News4JAX that Wednesday’s weather conditions were basically perfect — good visibility, little wind, and the field had plenty of room to land a little plane.
Really, the only problem was that the cows wouldn’t mooove out of the way.
Ultimately, the cause of the crash was determined to be an accident.