PORTLAND, Me. — A pilot who clung to the rear stairs of a small plane after a door opened in flight says he was "thrilled to see the sunrise" after landing safely, but declined to say any more Thursday about the incident.
"There was no mechanical fault with the door," and the plane was returned to service, Steven Mason, sales manager of Eastern Express, said at a news conference Thursday. He said the company was investigating the possibility that it had not been properly closed.
Henry Dempsey, 46, of Cape Elizabeth, suffered only scratches on his hand. He declined all interviews but said through the company that he was "thrilled to see the sunrise" and was still stunned by the "harrowing experience."
Dempsey was piloting a 15-seat Beechcraft 99, with no passengers aboard, from Lewiston to Boston on Wednesday night when he heard a rattle in the back of the plane and went back to investigate.
When the aircraft hit some turbulence, he leaned against the door, which was hinged at the bottom, and the stairway door opened. Dempsey tumbled forward, grabbed the railings as he fell, and lay upside down on the stairs as the plane cruised at 190 m.p.h. at an altitude of 4,000 feet.
"He was partly in the aircraft and partly out," Mason said.
The co-pilot, Paul Boucher of Lynn, Mass., spotted the "door ajar" indicator light on and realized something had happened, so he changed course and flew to Portland International Jetport, which was about 10 minutes away.
As the plane landed, Dempsey's face reportedly was about 12 inches above the runway.
Dempsey was prone on the stairs when Portland firefighter Mark Thomsen reached him, still clinging to the stairway's cable railings.
"He held there for three or four minutes. He didn't want to let go. He had a death grip on them," Thomsen said.
Capt. Edson Fletcher, who headed the Portland Fire Department's crash crew at the jetport, said Dempsey held on for about five minutes in flight--from the time the door opened until Boucher landed--but, "it probably seemed like an hour to him."
As the crew bandaged Dempsey's cut hands and laid him on the ground, Thomsen said he joked with them.
"We asked him how his ride was and he said it wasn't too rough, but the wind was quite something. He said: 'You might want to go search around Cape Elizabeth for my hat.' "