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'This could have ended really badly' | Kayakers save pilot after crash into frozen lake

Neighbors by Beards Creek in Riva, MD jumped into action after a small plane crashed into the river Monday morning.

RIVA, Md. — Three kayakers are being called heroes after they jumped into action Monday morning after a small plane crashed into the Beards Creek area near Lee Airport. 

Using shovels and screwdrivers, they were able to pull their kayaks along a layer of ice toward the crash site in an effort to rescue the pilot before a Maryland Department of Natural Resources Police boat could arrive. 

“This could have ended really badly,” said John Gelinne, who was talking with WUSA9 along the ice-covered Beards Creek, along with his son, John Gelinne Jr. 

The duo saw the plane struggling in the air before the crash. 

"It was heading - what felt like - right for our house,” he said. 

The plane then turned left over the creek, before crashing down into the waterway. Bella Wagner was at her neighbor's home, feeding the cat when the crash happened. 

"It just stopped mid-air and plummeted down,” she said. 

The small plane cratered into the ice and was sticking out of the creek for a while. The pilot was able to exit the plane before it sank. 

Credit: WUSA9

"He immediately got out of the plane and was attempting to get up and walk or swim on the ice. But the ice was too thin,” said Wagner. 

After seeing the crash, the father-son duo jumped into action. Gelinne Jr. is a marine and his father is a retired naval officer. The two pulled down kayaks and ran toward the ice. 

"We threw the kayaks in," said Gelinne Jr. "And then we were like how to do we move the kayaks? So I ran out and was looking for anything. He was like ‘get the shovel.’”

The two dragged themselves on the ice with the shovel, making their way to the pilot. 

Meanwhile, a couple of homes down, neighbors were gathering by the dock. When an Anne Arundel County Police officer arrived, neighbors dragged down a kayak for her to use. 

Rob Wagner said that the police officer was using a screwdriver-like a pick axe to pull herself along the ice. 

"They literally got her screwdrivers to pull herself," he said. "Because you can’t use the oars. Because the ice is so solid.”

Eventually, the Gelinne duo reached the pilot and started to pull him out of the ice-cold water. 

Credit: WUSA9

"I just told him to grab the edge of the kayak, and hold on tight," said Gelinne. "And I’m going to pull you out of this water.”

Eventually, the pilot was pulled onto the kayak, where he could escape the frigid temperatures. Gelinne said that a Maryland Department of Natural Resources Police boat arrived five to ten minutes later to pick up the pilot. 

Lt. Jennifer Macallair from Anne Arundel County Fire and EMS said that these kayakers likely saved the pilot's life, because minutes count when it comes to avoiding hypothermia in freezing cold water. 

"With the temperatures like I said in the 30 degrees hypothermia can set in within minutes. And so their quick actions - I think definitely made a positive outcome today."

Both Gelinne and his son agreed that the question wasn't whether they would act, but how they would make their way to the struggling pilot. 

“The only thing I’m happy about is that this guy is going to see another Christmas," he said. "This ended well.”

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