Missouri Civil Air Patrol helps find downed plane and pilot

CHESTERFIELD, MO (KPLR) – A Chesterfield pilot is expected to recover after the single engine plane he was flying crashed near the Spirit of St. Louis Airport Sunday night.

Authorities believe he may have been doing "touch and go” maneuvers when the plane stalled.  He was the only person on board.

The U.S. Air Force has credited the Missouri Civil Air Patrol with both a “find" and a "save", as in finding the plane and saving the pilot.

Their training and a search beacon led the way to the overturned plane and the injured pilot, Ranakrishna Vallurutalli, 70.

He was still trapped in the wreckage, hidden by the late night darkness and waist high soybeans.

“What we could see from the fence line when they actually found the airplane was just one of the wheels sticking up,” said Lt. Col. Keith Monteith of the MO Civil Air Patrol.

The plane went down not far Spirit Airport around 8:00 last night.

Helicopter searchers were picking up the plane’s emergency beacon, a steady radio tone activated by impact.  Still, they could not see the plane.  Their initial search focused on the Missouri River and Howell Island west of the airport.  But the handheld direction finder used by in civil air patrol’s ground search team locked onto the beacon and pointed them just north of the area where the helicopter searchers were looking.

“When we showed up with the direction finder, we got a bearing that said it was actually a lot close to the outlet mall, than Howell Island,” Monteith said.  “When the needle (of the direction finder) centers up then we just look straight ahead, that’s where the bearing should be to the airplane that we’re trying to find … so (we) directed the helicopter to relocate and search the soybean field that was just to north of the airport.  Within two passes he had lit up the crash site with his powered spotlight…we train for years to go out and find and hopefully rescue downed air crew before they are in too severe straits.  Many times you don’t find them in time.  It’s awesome if you find someone in time to make a difference.”

Shortly after 10:00, the search was over.  The FAA is investigating the incident but there is not yet any definitive word on what caused the crash.