Coliseum Health System CEO Allen Golson was alive and talking to his wife Friday in the moments after the twin-engine airplane he was piloting crash-landed in Florida.
But a fire erupted and, despite daring rescue tries, Golson, still in the cockpit, died in the ensuing fog of smoke and flames.
His wife, Carol, escaped the blaze. She suffered a back injury in the crash, authorities said.
Allen Golson, 55, who had recently announced that he was moving to Ocala to be CEO of a hospital there, died of burns and smoke inhalation, authorities said.
“We could see him, but we couldn’t get him out,” off-duty firefighter Caleb Munden said by phone Monday. “You couldn’t see a whole lot with the fire extinguishers and the smoke from the fire. ... Right as we got to him, the fire extinguishers ran out and the flames started coming in on us.”
Munden, 27, who is also a paramedic for the Marion County Fire Department, was driving near Ocala International Airport just after noon on Friday when he saw smoke in a field south of the runway.
He arrived as Carol Golson, 52, was stepping out of the Cessna 340’s wreckage on her own. Munden and another firefighter helped her get away from the plane. Then Munden crawled inside the plane while other people outside tried to douse flames with fire extinguishers.
“We thought we heard him,” Munden said. “But I knew if I couldn’t breathe for long in there, I knew he couldn’t. ... I couldn’t get him out.”
He said one of the wings burst into flames while he was in the cabin. Smoke poured in.
Munden said he went inside the burning plane at least three times.
“One time I came out and took my shirt off and put it over my face and tried to go back in, but that didn’t work either. It was just unbearable. Not so much heat, but mainly you just couldn’t breathe,” the firefighter said.
“It’s just sad you couldn’t really do much more than we did.”
Munden said Allen Golson seemed to have either been pinned in or strapped in the cockpit.
Munden said he talked to Carol Golson later and said she seemed to be in shock.
“She had no idea what was going on, I don’t think,” Munden said. “Most of the time, her eyes were closed like she was in a dream, a bad dream.”
Carol Golson later told a Marion sheriff’s deputy that her husband had told her they were flying “too low,” and that the next thing she knew they were “on the ground.”
The Golsons were flying to Florida to go house hunting.
A National Transportation Safety Board accident investigator said Monday that he planned to talk to Carol Golson in the coming days. She was sitting in one of the six-seat Cessna 340’s four rear passenger seats when it went down.
Henry Lowe, president of Lowe Aviation at Middle Georgia Regional Airport where the Golsons kept their plane, said Allen Golson had, in the past, owned a Cessna 340 like the one he departed Macon in on Friday.
Golson, he said, had switched to flying a single-engine Beechcraft but missed the Cessna twin. In recent months, Lowe said, Golson bought the 340 that crashed.
Atlanta-based NTSB investigator Ralph Hicks was in Macon on Monday retrieving maintenance records for the Golson plane. He said investigators had finished their crash-site investigation in Florida.
The wreck happened about 12:30 p.m. in a field about two-and-half miles west of Interstate 75 in Ocala.
The plane, apparently bound for the airport’s north-south runway, went down southwest of the strip, Hicks said.
The Cessna’s landing switch was in the “gear up” position, but Hicks said investigators found that the plane’s landing gear, its retractable wheels, were “in transit,” not quite all the way up and locked, but close.
Hicks declined to speculate on what that might mean.
Lowe, however, said it could indicate the pilot had, for whatever reason, aborted the landing and decided to “go around” and make another approach.
To contact writer Joe Kovac Jr., call 744-4397.