News 11 Special Report: Plane Crash on Lake Erie

Jerry Anderson delivered this report on May 19:

Last Labor Day, after a day-long family reunion, the Hutchison family returned to their home  near Lima. Joyce had to head to church to set up a pre-school.

"I said. 'What are you planning to do?' and he says 'I think I feel like flying.' I said 'Alright, we'll see you later,'" Joyce Hutchinson says of the last time she saw her husband alive.

Jeff then took his two youngest sons -- 9-year-old Jeremy and 7-year-old Joel -- and headed off to Kelley's Island to see the glacial grooves there. The light of day was yielding to night, but for Jeff and the boys, this was more "cool" than a cause for concern.

"He loved flying at night. He said it was like flying on glass," Joyce says, adding "...night was his favorite time to fly."

On Kelley's, longtime islander Chuck Herndon had had dinner with his aging mother just up the coast from his own place. Night flights off the island, Herndon says, are rare, and this one, now taking off with Jeff and the boys on board for the return to Lima, quickly caught his attention.

"And then I spotted it and it was pretty clear to me there was going to be something bad happening," Herndon says.

No one knows exactly what happened. The plane turned, banked and went down in the darkness.

"I thought immediately the people who are out there would need help," Herndon says. He grabbed a rowboat, his right shoulder searing with pain on every stroke. He saw nothing and no one.

But then "...at that point I heard what might have been a number of screams for help, or one scream for help, I couldn't tell."

There was only one voice --- it was Joel's.

"I called out 'Help,' and he said to keep on calling out," Joel says of his rescuer.

"I would keep screaming. I would figure that they would have a little hope and not become desperate and go down," Herndon says.

Herndon never did see Joel in the water "but he grabbed the side of the boat ... It was just amazing -- and a huge relief."

Back at the Hutchison farm, Joyce was troubled that Jeff, Jeremy and Joel were not  home by 11 p.m. When headlights finally reflected off the barn it seemed an answer to a prayer she'd just breathed. But then the lights stopped, and Joyce peeked out to see a police car.

" I walked out to the end of the sidewalk and said 'I do not want to see you here,'" Joyce says of that awful moment when she realized something had gone terribly wrong.

"He said, 'Can we go in and talk?' I said, 'Just tell me how many are dead.' And he said, 'M'am can we go inside and talk?' and I said, 'Just tell me how many are dead. Is it all three of them? Who is it and how many?'"

It was Jeff and Jeremy. But it was far from the end of this story. Indeed, Joyce and the rest of her family attribute their ability to cope to their faith.

"... to know that God is bringing good of this and he's got a purpose for this. I don't need the answers. Just use it God, use whatever," Joyce says today.

Joyce says she wouldn't have made it without her faith. There's also the faith of a child touching so many as Joyce's pastor has explained.

This boy, who upon being pulled from the water after surviving a plane crash with only scrapes, had just one question for his rescuer.

"A little bit on the way in he asked me if I were a Christian. And he thought I was there to help him because of his prayers," Herndon says.

Joel's faith has been nurtured by his family.

"I believe with everything in me that God had his hand or a guardian angel holding Joel up," Joyce says.

Make no mistake, Joyce says she still has words with God over taking a dad away from a teenage son. Josh is 15 and wants to be a farmer like his dad.

"My dad was my best friend. I was with him in the summers 8 hours a day. I had a closer relationship with him than anyone else in the world," Josh says.

Jenny's 14 and was very close to her late brother Jeremy. Sometimes she feels cheated, but she also believes God has a reason.

"There are times I wish I could just be like 'Dad, I need to talk to you. Why did you have to go now cuz I still need you for certain things in my life,'" Jenny says.

The remaining family members lean on each other, stand firm in their faith and say the ones they've lost are celebrating.

Posted by KO