At 10:26 a.m. Tuesday, the call came over the scanner: A plane had crashed near a busy Columbia County intersection.
Within five minutes, Martinez firefighters Chris Ganther and Wade Johnson - along with two ambulance crews from Gold Cross and a battalion of sheriff's deputies - were there.
"My partner was with the patient, so I went down to the plane to make sure nobody else was down there," Ganther said.
The plane crash was the beginning of two long hours for police, fire and ambulance crews. Between 10 a.m. and noon Tuesday, emergency workers responded to the plane crash and five car accidents involving injuries.
"It was unusual to have that many accidents occurring at the same time," sheriff's Capt. Steve Morris said. "This doesn't account for miscellaneous calls during the same time."
"It's been a while since we've had one of these," said Scott Sherman, deputy director of Columbia County Emergency Services, propped against the hood of his Ford Bronco.
In ambulance service-speak, a "Code 1" represents a plane crash. In terms of emergency response, Code 1 refers to life-threatening emergency calls - such as CPR in progress, Sherman said.
"A one and a one is just a real unusual combination," he said.
All three drivers in a three-car accident on Washington Road were taken to the hospital with minor injuries Tuesday. Five car accidents occurred within an hour Tuesday morning.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
Down an embankment, sheriff's investigators photographed the Piper Comanche plane resting on the bank of a pond behind Appletree Academy, a day-care center.
Witnesses said the plane went down about 10:25 a.m., after flying low over a middle school and the day care.
"It wasn't sputtering or anything," said Rick Ziglar. "I think he was looking for a spot (to crash-and) and he saw the pond and he banked into it."
At Appletree, on Furys Ferry Road, owner Pat Shank was readying for a Thanksgiving lunch for more than 130 children and their parents at the center.
"I was on the front porch greeting parents, and I didn't hear it," she said at the scene.
After the crash, witnesses rushed to the site and tried to help the pilot - 40-year-old John J. Davis of Anderson, S.C.
"He was pulled from the wreck by construction workers who feared an explosion," said Honey Shore, the Martinez Fire Department's public information officer.
As the first call about the crash went out, Gold Cross CEO Tom Schneider mobilized everyone he could find: five ambulances and one of the service's helicopters.
"You dispatch a lot of ambulances on a plane crash, just in case there are a lot of victims," said Columbia County Emergency Services Director Pam Tucker.
At 10:32 a.m., the helicopter took off from the landing pad at Doctors Hospital. By 10:37, the helicopter had landed at a construction site near the crashed plane, blowing up a huge cloud of red dust. Fourteen minutes later, Davis had arrived at Medical College of Georgia Hospital, Shore said.
"By the time (emergency workers) got him up the hill, the helicopter had landed," she said. "That is an amazing coordinating effort."
Tucker praised emergency personnel for the rapid response and Davis for flying his plane away from highly populated areas.
"You have to give a lot of credit to the pilot," Tucker said. "He did a great job of getting the plane down where it didn't hit anything."
Emergency workers tend to one of the drivers involved in a three-car accident Tuesday on Washington Road in front of the Evans Kroger.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
First of several calls
As emergency workers toiled at the crash site, a message blared across their radio. Three accidents had occurred along Interstate 20 within a few minutes and a few miles of one another.
While there were no serious injuries, travelers were delayed, and emergency crews were scrambling.
The most serious traffic accident Tuesday happened at 11:52 a.m. on Washington Road in front of the Kroger in Evans.
According to Columbia County sheriff's Deputy David Reynolds, a red Ford Focus being driven by Isabella Wanjiru Mwangi pulled out of the Kroger parking lot into the path of a white Nissan, driven westbound by Jennifer Digman, 31.
Mwangi's car was hit by the Nissan and then spun into the path of a Ford Contour, which was being driven eastbound by Jessica Heckmus, 20.
Rescue workers had to cut one of the victims from the Focus. The accident sent three patients to hospitals with minor injuries.
One of the Gold Cross ambulances from the plane-crash site was rerouted to the assist with the car accident, Schneider said.
To be prepared for everything from a plane crash to car accidents, Tucker said, emergency-response teams run though periodic drills.
"Everyone knows who has what responsibility for what function," she said. "It's very automatic."
Staff Writer Preston Sparks contributed to this article.
Accidents' time frame
10:25 a.m.: Airplane crash
11:03 a.m.: Traffic accident with injuries - I-20 eastbound at mile marker 187
11:09 a.m.: Traffic accident with injuries - Belair Road and I-20
11:09 a.m.: Traffic accident with injuries - eastbound I-20 at mile marker 188
11:29 a.m.: Traffic accident with injuries - 4020 Washington Road
11:52 a.m.: Traffic accident with injuries - 4355 Washington Road (Kroger)
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