Video: Pilot's miracle landing

updated 6/14/2005 9:44:11 PM ET 2005-06-15T01:44:11

The pilot of a World War II-era cargo plane that sheared off treetops and narrowly missed homes before its fiery landing on a street said Tuesday that his wartime training helped him safely land the plane.

Pilot Charles Riggs said crash-landings as a helicopter pilot in the Vietnam War, when he was shot down more than once, coupled with more than four decades of flying, had taught him what to do when the DC-3’s left engine died shortly after taking off Monday with 3,200 pounds of granite destined for the Bahamas.

“It’s what I’ve been doing for 40 years,” Riggs told reporters Tuesday at Holy Cross Hospital.

He and co-pilot Charles Wirt considered landing on the beach, but realized they wouldn’t make it. Wirt said they opted for a wide street with lots of tall palm trees that could be used to slow down the plane.

“You had no choice but to drop the nose and take what you could get,” Wirt said.

Moments after the two pilots and passenger, Hector Espinoza, escaped, the plane was engulfed in flames.

Riggs and Espinoza had injuries including knee damage and Wirt had a chipped neck bone and compression fracture to a vertebrae. They were expected to be released in a few days, doctors said.

At least two people on the ground were also hurt.

The cause of the crash was being investigated Tuesday.

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