TOLEDO — Rowing through darkness, Chuck Herndon steered his boat toward where he had seen the plane’s taillights plunge into Lake Erie just off the Kelleys Island shore.
Finally, he heard a faint cry.
“I’m coming, I’m coming,” Herndon yelled.
He rowed furiously, following the voice.
But Herndon still couldn’t see anything until a pair of small hands reached up and grabbed hold of the side of the boat.
Once safely on board, the shivering 7-year-old boy told Herndon that his dad and older brother didn’t survive the Monday night crash.
Search crews found the body of his older brother, 9-year-old Jeremy Hutchison, on Tuesday, the U.S. Coast Guard said. Their father, Jeff Hutchison, 46, had been piloting the plane and remained missing.
Divers recovered the body of a man near the plane’s fuselage Tuesday night, and the body was taken to a coroner’s office for identification, the Coast Guard said.
Joel Hutchison, the only survivor, was in fair condition at St. Vincent Mercy Medical Center in Toledo.
The single-engine plane went down shortly after taking off just before 9:30 p.m. from the island airport, a short landing strip that caters to sightseers and residents who own summer cottages.
Many were celebrating the Labor Day holiday, marking the unofficial end of summer.
The boys and their father, a farmer, were leaving the island, midway between Cleveland and Toledo, and heading home to Lima.
“He was a great, great family man and he adored those boys,” Jay Begg, a farmer and manager of the Allen County Fair, told The Lima News. “It’s going to be a big loss to the community.”
Herndon and his wife, Cindy, were near the beach when the plane flew by too low.
“It just took a nice smooth arc into the water,” he said.
There was no explosion, no loud boom, he said.
Herndon ran for his row boat, ignoring his wife, who was yelling at him to take a life jacket.
There weren’t any other boats nearby or in the water.
“I thought if anybody was going to find anybody, I was going to be the one,” Herndon said.
The boy stayed afloat for at least 15 minutes without a life jacket while Herndon searched in the dark.
“I was lucky, and the kid was smart and strong,” he said.
Herndon said he kept the boy close to his body, trying to warm him up, as they rowed toward the shore.
“He said ‘my father and my brother were killed in a plane crash’ just like that,” Herndon said.
The boy also told Herndon that he got out of the plane only because his seat belt broke during the crash.
Jeff Hutchison’s wife, Joyce, and their two other children were not on the plane. Joyce Hutchison teaches kindergarten at the Shawnee School District, The Lima News reported.
“It’s an awful tragedy,” said school superintendent Paul Nardini.
Rescuers and divers from nearby communities and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources joined the search for the wreckage Tuesday in an area where debris and floating oil were spotted, authorities said.
They first found a wheel and another small pieces from the 1962 Cessna 172C Skyhawk.
Hours later, they found the main section of the plane and then the 9-year-old’s body.