Pilot Lands off St. Simons, Swims to Shore

ST. SIMONS ISLAND - A Holland, Mich., man landed his disabled plane in the Atlantic Ocean about 2:45 p.m. Friday and swam the short distance to shore uninjured.

Jim Stroop said he was flying north at 8,000 feet when the engine of his 2002 Beechcraft Bonanza just quit.

Air traffic controllers from Jacksonville guided him to McKinnon-St. Simons Island Airport, but he lost too much altitude to make an emergency landing there, Stroop said.

"I could see I couldn't make the runway. I thought I was going into those buildings," he said of the condos along the beach just south of the former U.S. Coast Guard station.

"So I decided to land in the water," he said.

Frank and Jean Preston of Oneonta, N.Y., were among the people walking the beach who saw the plane hit the water.

"We were just walking along and we saw him coming," Frank Preston said.

The plane appeared very low and the Prestons saw the plane bank, then go "very gently" into the water.

"He did a beautiful job. He just sat it down," Jean Preston said.

"We saw him getting out of the cockpit. He stepped out on the wing, put his life jacket on and paddled to shore," Frank Preston said.

Glynn County police, firefighters, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and the Coast Guard all converged on the area after getting the call, but Stroop was already standing sodden on the beach wearing a black fleece jacket, jeans and boat shoes.

The single-engine Bonanza drifted a short distance down the beach and settled on the bottom.

Stroop said he was flying from the Bahamas to Wilmington, N.C., and still had about 40 gallons of fuel aboard.

Steve Brian, executive director of the Glynn County Airport Commission, said it will be up to Stroop to remove the plane, but he first must obtain a release from the National Transportation Safety Board, the agency that investigates crashes.

"That's better than what could have happened," Brian said of Stroop's landing. "He made a good decision."

Stroop said it was his first water landing and that he had owned the aircraft two years.

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