SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — The pilot of the seaplane who crash-landed into the American River Wednesday is speaking out about the moment of impact and the struggle to escape the submerged plane alive.
Pilot Keith Hezmalhalch still has a bloody forehead from the crash.
“It’s an abrasion from where my head… and my hat was still on… was forced into the windscreen on the airplane,” Hezmalhalch said.
Hezmalhalch says he is okay.
“Physically, I am fine,” Hezmalhalch said.
Hezmalhalch believes his seaplane crashed because its wheels were down for the planned water landing.
“Looked like one of my best water landings ever,” Hezmalhalch said. “Such a beautiful day, and then suddenly it wasn’t.”
Hezmalhalch fears the wheels were down because of his own pilot error.
“I feel a sense of failure, a sense of guilt, over not being the kind of pilot that we all are supposed to be,” Hezmalhalch said.
Hezmalhalch recounted the terrifying first moments under water. His self-inflated life vest, intended to save him, had instead trapped him and pushed him into the back of the plane, a dark cargo area.
“I was trying to figure out what was where, where I was, and at the same time I felt was gonna lose my breath and I thought, ‘Oh my God, I’m gonna drown,’” he told CBS13. “I was frantic to try and figure out what was going on because I was very aware that I was holding my breath and the air was 5 or 6 feet above me.”
After finally making it above water, he dove down again and again to free his passenger, who was now unconscious and still strapped in her seat.
“I can tell you, it looks just like it does in the movies,” Hezmalhalch said. “It was bad.”
Finally freeing her on his fourth dive, he performed CPR until first-responders arrived. She is still in critical condition.
A crash landing, and a harrowing underwater escape. Now this seaplane pilot, with his love for flying, is focused on his passenger making a complete recovery.
“It all seemed so simple until it didn’t go that way at all,” Hezmalhalch said.
Hezmalhalch credits the homeless camped along the American River who watched his plane go down for calling 9-1-1. He says if first-responders had not arrived so quickly, his passenger may not have initially survived. Though he’s had his pilot’s license for more than two decades and he’s landed his seaplane in Sacramento waterways before, Hezmalhalch isn’t sure if he’ll ever fly again.