Banner plane crashes into ocean

High tides will delay the recovery of a banner plane that crashed into the ocean in North Myrtle Beach Wednesday. By all accounts, the pilot appears to be OK, but the plane is still under water Thursday.

The plane quickly sank and by late afternoon, recovery efforts to find it and pull it out of the ocean were called off. North Myrtle Beach spokesman Pat Dowling says he was told by an employee of Barnstormers Aerial Advertising that the company would have the plane removed around 4 or 5 p.m. Thursday.

Swimmers and sunbathers had been enjoying a hot and lazy day on the beach, when suddenly and silently around noon, they saw the plane fall from the sky.

"So I said to my wife, look at that, that plane's getting ready to crash," said Brian Duffy. "Sure enough the pilot glided it right into the water. It hit very hard, the tail went up."

Duffy says the plane sank quickly.

Within seconds, Marty Tibble and other swimmers got up close to where the plane hit the ocean and saw the pilot pop out of the water.

"We saw him come up and he indicated that he was the only person in the plane, seemed to be OK. He did have a pretty good cut over his eye, but other than that, he seemed all right," Tibble said.

Tibble says a jet ski pulling a banana boat arrived and took the pilot to a nearby hotel.

The plane went down so fast, some beachgoers saw only its tail sticking out and weren't sure what they were seeing. Was it a whale or something worse?

"At first I thought it was a shark, because I saw the big thing (sticking out), but then I realized, it wasn't a shark because I saw the plane go down and I just didn't know what was going on," said Amelio Alheidt.

Horry County and North Myrtle Beach rescue crews searched by boat and with divers to find and recover the plane.

One officer said it was at a depth of maybe 25 to 30 feet. A helicopter aided in the search, but it was slow going.

Meanwhile, bystanders marveled at the pilot's quick thinking.

"He could have easily glided it over here to the beach and landed it on the beach but that would have risked a lot of people's lives, instead he dropped it right into the water," Duffy said.

This is the second banner plane accident this summer. Last weekend, a plane ran off a runway and crashed in North Myrtle Beach. The pilot was not hurt.