Pilot Howard Faltz said he was heading in for a picture-perfect landing, but instead was crashing into dirt and scrub brush as his Cessna 172 crashed on the north side of the Payson Airport runway Saturday morning.
Faltz was flying into Payson for a meeting and breakfast at the Crosswinds when his plane was hit by the restaurant's namesake just as it was about to touch down.
On board the aircraft were Faltz's wife, Mary and 8-year-old twin brothers, Dakota and Dillon Montana, all of Phoenix.
Faltz said on approach he received his landing instructions and had performed his noise abatement and was within inches of touching down on the runway when a gust of wind from the south pushed his plane off the north side of the runway.
"I tried to recover and stay airborne although I was incredibly low and slow," Faltz said. "Within 10 or 15 seconds, another gust of wind hit and pulled us down."
Faltz said he knew what he had to do following the first gust of wind.
"I was doing all the things I needed to get the plane flying again," Faltz said. "All I needed was to get some speed and lift to take off."
However, within a split second, Faltz said the wind pulled the plane down.
"It was in slow motion. As the plane started to flip, I thought in my mind, is this what it feels like to die?" Faltz said.
The plane, however, came to rest nose down in the dirt with its right wing on top of the fence. Faltz said that when the nose wheel broke off, the strut dug into the dirt, causing the plane to flip.
Dillon, who had been riding in the back seat with Mary, slipped out of his seat belt and fell into the front seat on top of Faltz and Dakota upon impact.
"I slipped out of the seat belt and started kicking the window; it wouldn't open," Dillon said. He finally climbed out the window and opened the door from the outside.
Faltz said he remembers kicking the window and then the door as he knew with the plane nose down the heat of the engine combined with a fuel leak could lead to an explosion.
"I pulled Dakota out and tried to get my wife out, but the people there said to wait as the fire department was coming down the runway and they would get her out," Faltz said.
Mary and Dakota were taken to Payson Regional by ambulance. Dillon was airlifted to Phoenix Children's Hospital after complaining of head and neck pain.
All three, with the exception of Mary who suffered a broken arm, were released from the hospital after being treated for bumps and bruises.
Faltz said he was not injured in the crash, but may have hurt his leg while kicking the window. He refused treatment at the scene.
"The boys were real troopers," Faltz said. "We had gone through the safety instructions on the plane before takeoff. I even told them smoking was not allowed, but they paid attention to all the instructions regarding emergency landings. When we crashed, they remained calm. They did what I told them to do and were actually a big help."
Faltz said although the plane is most likely a total loss, he is grateful they all survived.