Southsider Voice correspondent
Heroic civilians saved the life of a co-pilot from Florida before being turned away by flames and intense heat that claimed the pilot’s life in a small plane crash that occurred shortly after takeoff July 11 at Greenwood Municipal Airport.
“It was sheer bravery that saved a life,” Greenwood Assistant Police Chief Matt Fillenwarth said. “Had they not responded, it would have been a double fatality.”
Lakeview subdivision neighbor Bobby Forsyth and passing motorist Stan Breeden reached the plane after it clipped a home and landed behind another off Patterson Street near busy Main Street. They pulled co-pilot Michael Joseph Elliot from the plane.
An unidentified woman tried to help remove pilot William Michael Gilliland, 46, Greenwood, but could not get him out the plane. Witnesses said the woman came from a business complex east of the subdivision.
Fillenwarth estimated that the plane never reached an altitude of 100 feet, veered and narrowly missed the Oaken Barrel Brewing Co. before crashing shortly after 2 p.m. “Takeoff is the worst time for anything like that to happen,” he said. “The plane has not attained enough speed or altitude.”
A preliminary report by the National Transportation Safety Board revealed that two witnesses saw the plane trailing blue smoke before and during takeoff. Gilliland and Elliot were to fly to East Texas Regional Airport in Longview.
Elliot suffered serious injuries and was transported to IU Health Methodist Hospital.
First-responder Eric McElhaney, a Greenwood police officer, arrived and helped move Elliot to further safety.
Gilliland is survived by wife Angie, daughters Grace and Sophie and grandmother Dorothy Konzelman. A Mass of Christian burial was celebrated July 16 at SS. Francis & Clare Catholic Church with burial in Forest Lawn Memory Gardens in Greenwood.
In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to the Gilliland family trust or SS. Francis & Clare educational trust c/o Old National Bank, 900 S. State Road 135, Greenwood, IN 46143.