Waterford — With a disaster averted late Monday morning, one police officer coined a nickname for the Buffalo, N.Y., man who made an emergency landing in a single-engine plane a short distance from Waterford Beach.
“He’s the Sully of Alewife Cove,” Waterford Police Sgt. Joe DePasquale said, smiling.
DePasquale was referring to Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, the U.S. Airways pilot who in 2009 successfully made an emergency landing in New York’s Hudson River and saved 155 passengers.
On Monday, the town had its own rather eventful crash landing, albeit on a smaller scale.
Kenyon Riches, a 74-year-old pilot, crashed his small Sonex plane in marshlands a few hundred yards from Waterford Beach, where hundreds of patrons were enjoying a warm summer day.
Riches was less than 10 miles from Groton-New London Airport, where he planned to land, when his engine cut out, according to his daughter, Jennifer Baker.
The plane flew directly over the beach and many there said at first glance it appeared to be a glider or a balloon. They soon realized they would have a front-row seat as Riches made his emergency landing.
“The plane was so low you could see (the pilot’s) face,” said John Yannacci, one beachgoer.
Lifeguards ran over to check on Riches, who suffered only a few cuts on one arm in the landing. The plane landed on its wheels and was damaged in some areas, although it remained mostly intact. A cause for the engine’s malfunction was not immediately known.
Baker said that her father left Buffalo early Monday as he planned to meet with family in the area. Baker and her husband, Brian, were driving down from Buffalo and reached their hotel here just in time to receive a phone call from Riches.
Baker said that her father has been a pilot for at least 50 years and that he was one of the first to be licensed to fly with cochlear implants, advanced electronic hearing devices for the hearing impaired. Riches declined to comment through his family.
His daughter said that some early vacation plans called for her to ride with her father in the two-passenger plane before that idea was scrapped. She said she was “speechless” upon hearing about Riches’ strategic landing in the cove.
“He’s been a pilot all his life,” Baker said. “He’s the type of person to be very calm.”
Anthony Barrila, an ice cream truck vendor who was working at the walk-in entrance to Waterford Beach, said the plane was so low that he watched it briefly through the front window of his truck.
Barrila was interviewed by several television reporters and throughout the afternoon he recounted his view of the crash landing to his customers.
“I’m happy the guy made it out fine,” Barrila said. “I didn’t realize what was happening.”
Firefighters from the Goshen Fire Department and town police officers and emergency personnel assisted in pulling the plane from the cove. Riches’ son in law, Brian, used his Ford F-150 to pull it from its landing spot.
Officials from the Federal Aviation Administration had Riches briefly start up the plane’s engine just after 4 p.m. It ran uninterrupted for about a minute before it was shut down.