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Couple thrilled to survive as plane crashes in field

Charles McDermott had one thing to say after his plane lost its engine at 10,500 feet and crashed into a field Monday: "I should've took Southwest."

Just as laid-back as if the accident had been an afternoon swim, McDermott explained what was going through his head after his 1947 Stinson underwent catastrophic engine failure.

"Where am I going to put this plane when all you can do is glide? I thought about the golf course, but I didn't want to land where they were trying to play a game," he said.

He summed up the crash as "just one of those things."

The passenger in the plane, McDermott's girlfriend, Carol Vargas, said he was calm even after the plane hit the ground.

"I couldn't open my door, it was the one that was smashed in," she said. "I was yelling, 'Get out! Get out!' But he was calm."

McDermott and Vargas were traveling back to their home in Redding, Calif., after attending the AirVenture OshKosh in Wisconsin, advertised as "the world's greatest aviation celebration." Around 1 p.m., Vargas said the plane's engine gave out.

"The engine blew; it just quit completely, but the propellers continued to spin," she said. "From that point we were gliding."

She said she was shaking as the couple attempted to find a nearby airport, before deciding to land in an open field just east of I-215 near 2100 North.

Salt Lake City International Airport spokesman David Karzep said it was a "classic soft field landing," that all experienced pilots should know how to do. This one, in particular, was pretty ideal as there was no threat to structures or lives.

"If the engine cuts out, you look for a place to set down, and this was a pretty optimal place to set down," Karzep said.

Vargas said she recently started Twittering and posting YouTube videos about the duo's adventures under the name "frisky travelers." Documenting this latest event was on Vargas' mind even as the plane was heading toward the ground.

"I will be Twittering this trip and posting it on YouTube," Vargas said. "I had the camera on as soon as the engine shut off."

She said the plane's initial impact inhibited her ability to film, but she got it back on as soon as she could. She said the Twitter post would tell of the "surreal" experience. The tentatively planned tweet is: "You're not gonna believe this, we crashed and we're alive."

"I have to tell everyone we survived," Vargas said. "It's amazing we walked away from it."

McDermott and Vargas experienced minor injuries and were treated at the scene. Karzep said that the plane wasn't badly damaged; it was just "crinkled," but its flying days are most likely over. The cause of the crash will be investigated and McDermott will be responsible for getting the plane off of the land.

McDermott said the $40,000, newly refurbished plane is "dead," but he still sees plenty to be grateful for.

"I'm alive to talk about it and I am so happy," he said. "You think I'd be sad the airplane is dead, but I'm alive. The airplane is done, but I am bueno. God is my co-pilot, and he looked out for me."

The videos Vargas has taken can be found at www.youtube.com/user/friskytraveller ,and the couple's tweets can be found at twitter.com/Friskytravelers.

e-mail: emorgan@desnews.com