MEREDITH, N.H. (WPRI) — An off-duty Massachusetts police officer helped rescue a 78-year-old pilot in New Hampshire after his plane crashed in Meredith Bay Sunday afternoon.
N.H. State Police Marine Patrol say the pilot, David Grapes, of Center Harbor, suffered minor injuries after the engine in his ultralight aircraft stopped running.
Officials say Grapes made the decision to crash-land into the bay, and was able to get make it out before the plane sank into about 65 feet of water.
Joe Ponzo, an off-duty Stoneham police officer, was in his boat when he saw the plane nosedive into the water. He and other boaters quickly rushed to the scene.
“I was there within maybe 30 seconds, the plane was gone,” Ponzo said.
Ponzo brought Grapes to shore, where he was taken by ambulance to Lakes Region General Hospital.
“Another bystander that was on a boat that was next to me was able to get a life jacket on him,” Ponzo said. “So, I was able to grab the life jacket and get the guy up on the boat. We had him on the back of the boat, my wife was just comforting him because he was in complete shock.”
Ponzo says Grapes was conscious and alert, though a little banged up and confused. Officials say he only suffered minor injuries.
According to Ponzo, in his 23 years on the job, it was one of the most bizarre events he’s ever witnessed, and he was still shaken, too.
“When my chief called me and found out, he says, ‘Hey what did you do now?’ I said, ‘Hey I was the right place, at the right time, you know?'” Ponzo recalled.
Stoneham Police Chief James McIntyre credited Officer Ponzo with saving the man’s life.
“Even off-duty on vacation with our families we are never truly off the job when duty calls,” Chief McIntyre said in a statement. “Officer Ponzo is a 23-year veteran of the Stoneham Police Department and he was the right person to be there when this man needed help. We credit Joe with helping to save this man’s life and springing into action when he saw someone in need.”
Salvage divers will recover the sunken aircraft later this week, according to fire officials.
Agencies responding to the scene included NHSP-Marine Patrol units, Meredith EMS, Meredith Fire and Laconia Fire Departments. The New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) were notified of the incident.
A spokesperson from National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) told Eyewitness News it is working with the FAA, who will conduct the initial examination, and a preliminary report may be available on the NTSB’s website in about ten days. A spokesperson with the FAA later told Eyewitness News it doesn’t investigate ultralight incidents, because they are not aircraft.
The crash remains under investigation with officials in New Hampshire. Anyone with additional details is asked to contact New Hampshire State Police – Marine Patrol Lt. Crystal McLain at (603) 227-2113 or firstname.lastname@example.org.