Injured and disoriented, a pilot was trapped upside down in his crashed airplane for several hours Tuesday but was able to make calls on his cellphone while rescuers searched the north Mississippi woods where he went down, authorities said after finding the man alive.
Monroe County Sheriff Cecil Cantrell said the pilot, Greg Huggins, 49, of Memphis, Tenn., was taken to a hospital for treatment after crashing his single-engine Piper Cherokee Six when the plane ran out of fuel and went down near the border of Itawamba and Monroe counties. He was the only person aboard.
"We got him out. He was living. He was shook up and cut up real bad, but he was coherent. What he's been through, it was a miracle," Cantrell said.
Officials with North Mississippi Medical Center in Tupelo would not release Huggins' condition.
FAA spokeswoman Kathleen Bergen said the plane was about 18 miles southeast of Tupelo when the pilot reported a problem Tuesday morning. Bergen said an alert was sent to airports and authorities within a 50-mile radius of the plane's last known location at about 7:45 a.m. CST.
Bergen said she couldn't say what kind of problem the pilot reported. Cantrell said Huggins told air traffic controllers he was running out of gas while flying from Ocala, Fla., to Olive Branch, Miss.
The pilot tried to give air traffic controllers his location before going down, the sheriff said. Residents in the area also reported seeing a plane that appeared to be going down into the woods. Firefighters, law enforcement officers and others from Itawamba, Lee and Monroe counties joined in the search.
Cantrell said the pilot was probably unconscious for some time before reviving and calling 911 on his cellphone. Authorities used "pings" from cellular towers in the area to help narrow their search, he said.
Two Army National Guard UH-72 Lakota helicopters joined the search after overcast skies initially hampered efforts to get civilian helicopters in the sky, Cantrell said. One of the military helicopters spotted the wreckage about 12:40 p.m. CST, said Guard spokesman Tim Powell.
"It was just an awesome job on everybody's part," Cantrell said. "He has to be a pretty good pilot. He went down between trees in some oak hardwoods and the wings took the impact."
The plane is registered to Buccaneer Aviation Inc., a Delaware corporation.
Huggins is an instructor at Downtown Aviation, which gives flying lessons at the airport in Olive Branch, Miss., where he was headed.