A Reno pilot who parachuted to safety moments before his amateur-built biplane fell apart said Thursday he didn't expect to survive the crash.
"I just feel really lucky," Ross Loudon told the Daily Sparks Tribune from his hospital bed at Washoe Medical Center.
Loudon, 38, a civil engineer who has been flying for 20 years, managed to parachute out of his acrobatic biplane just before it crashed into sagebrush northwest of Reno-Stead Airport on Wednesday. He's being treated for broken vertebrae and expected to recover.
Loudon said he made a point of practicing the bailout drill every time he flew.
But "I never really thought if it came apart that I would have much hope of getting out," he said.
Loudon said he flew his 1975 Wallace Skybolt fixed wing, single-engine plane as often as five times a week. He was flying level and upside down at about 2,000 to 2,500 elevation when the plane broke up.
"It shook for a second or two, and then it just came apart. I honestly don't know why," he said.
The biplane's plastic bubble canopy came off and hit him in the face, "so I was pretty much blinded."
"After I got hit and the plane just started falling toward the ground, I knew I needed to get out," he told the Tribune.
As the plane spiraled downward, he unbuckled his safety harness and pulled his rip cord just before the plane hit, partially opening his parachute before he hit the ground.
"It slowed me down just enough to keep me (alive)," he said.
Loudon was up and walking around when rescuers arrived at the scene in the hills near Cold Springs. He was flown by helicopter to Washoe Medical Center, where he remained in fair condition.
The Federal Aviation Administration is investigating the crash.
"It appears the plane crashed due to an in-flight breakup upon the pilot pulling out of an acrobatic maneuver," FAA spokesman Donn Walker told the Reno Gazette-Journal.
"Essentially, the plane fell apart in mid-air," he said.
Loudon said he bought the plane in April from a man in Florida who had rebuilt it from the ground up.
"I thought it was a ... solid plane right up until it came apart," he said.