SURPRISE, Ariz. - When a small plane went down in a Surprise neighborhood on Saturday, neighbors couldn’t believe it: The aircraft hadn’t crashed into a house, car or person.
But they didn’t know the pilot, 31-year-old Josh Merrill.
Merrill, tragically, was killed in the crash. His friend and passenger 32-year-old Michael Fox was the sole survivor.
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“You have very few choices, and they have to be made right, and they have to be made immediately,” said Jim Tilmon, an aviation expert and CEO of the Tilmon Group.
We shared information given to us by Fox’s family about what happened in the flight’s final moments.
“Seconds, we're talking about that makes a considerable difference,” Tilmon told 12 News when asked about crash landings.
Family members told 12 News the plane lost all power and Merrill, an experienced pilot and airplane mechanic, had just 45 seconds to figure out where to make a crash landing with nothing but houses and busy streets below.
What Merrill did next, Tilmon says could only have been done by exceptionally skilled pilot.
Fox’ family says Merrill spotted the nearest greenbelt in a neighborhood near 14000 West Fire Mesa Trail and on the way down, flew the fuselage of the aircraft between two trees, severing the aircraft’s wings.
Pictures from the scene show the wings sliced off from the plane.
“That of course gives him the opportunity to dump the fuel with the wings,” said Tilmon,
This lessened the plane’s chances of exploding and causing more damage.
While Tilmon didn’t know Merrill personally, he believes without a doubt – his quick thinking actions saved his friend’s life and lives of countless others.
“I imagine he was not shouting at that passenger. He was simply saying, ‘Brace yourself, we're going in.' Sounds like that type of guy,” said Tilmon, “I don’t know him. He's my hero today.”
Fox remains in the hospital, but according a family member, he has been upgraded from critical to serious condition.
The FAA is investigating the cause of the crash.