Mosquito control pilots help save pilot after airplane crash

Posted at 5:01 PM, Jul 12, 2016
and last updated 2016-07-12 17:07:34-04

Two men went out spraying for mosquito control on Monday, but returned with an extra passenger: An injured airplane pilot.

They rescued a pilot who just crashed his plane in the middle of nowhere in Polk County.

“By the tone of the voice of the ‘May Day, May Day, May Day,’ we knew that the pilot was desperate,” said Pepper Keller, who flies with Nick Harboe for Polk County Natural Resources and Mosquito Control.

The pair has zero search and rescue training, but they weren’t about to turn a blind eye.

“So we had no real clue on how to conduct a proper search. We kind of made that up on our own,” he said.

Maybe it was beginners luck.

Keller and Harboe found the downed plane about a mile from the Bartow Airport in the middle of thick woods and swamp land.

The pilot was bloodied -- but alive.

“It’s a great relief he was standing and was able to navigate on his own,” Keller said. “I think he had said, ‘Yes, I’m hurt,’ and he had bandaged himself.”

It appears the pilot, identified as James Melton from Kentucky, was doing aerial mapping at the time.

Investigators said he was coming in to land the plane when something went wrong.

“From the sound of his voice, we knew something had happened and it happened very quickly,” Harboe said.

Melton spent about three hours getting checked out in the hospital and was then released.

“It’s an old pilot adage... Any landing that you can walk away from is a good landing,” Keller added.