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American Towman Magazine Presents the Week in TowingJune 20 - June 26, 2018

Texas Teamwork Plane Recovery

0-Untitled 311d8by Jim "Buck" Sorrenti

A pilot was killed in a small plane crash that occurred in Stonewall, Texas, off Ranch Road 1623 on March 25.

The pilot was unable to stop or lift off before coming to the end of the runway at Burg Lake Aero Airport. The Piper Cherokee 140 aircraft crashed through airport fencing and went into a pond where it sank. The pilot was pronounced dead at the scene.

Aaron Cox, the owner of All Ways Hauling in Fredericksburg received the call from the Gillespie County Sheriff's department to recover the plane from the pond in Stonewall.

He responded and assessed the situation, and determined that it would be best to start the recovery the next morning since the Stonewall Fire Department was still recovering the body from the aircraft.

Cox knew that a rotator would be best in this situation, so he called his friend David Hawkins of Hawkins Towing and Recovery LLC in Von Ormy. Hawkins, who has been in the towing business since 1994, had worked with Cox on several jobs before and has mentored him in heavy recovery.

Hawkins informed, "The FAA investigators asked for us not to touch the plane until they arrived on scene. Aaron contacted me Saturday evening and coordinated with myself, a diver from Fredericksburg Fire & EMS Department and a small crew to meet in Stonewall Sunday morning for the recovery.

The next morning, Cox responded to the scene with his Century 5030 mounted on a 1997 Peterbilt. Hawkins responded in his 2017 Kenworth T800 with a Century 1150 50-ton rotator to recover the plane.

Hawkins brought his 17-year old son David Hawkins Jr with him.

"I brought my son along to teach him and so he could help with the rigging," Hawkins stated. "I believe the first-hand experience is the best way for the younger generation to learn the ropes."

The diver wrapped a large inner tube around the prop and one around the tail in order to bring the plane to the surface and to float it. Then they used a rim sling to wrap around the prop and hooked the cable from Hawkins' rotator to the rim sling and floated the plane closer to the shore, so they could rig and remove it from the pond.

"We used two 20'x12" recovery straps to go around both wings," Hawkins explained, "and two wear pads around the trailing edge of the flaps in order to prevent chafing of the straps. Next, we hooked a cable to each strap and then rigged a chain around the engine mount by the front landing gear, and used a snatch block on the boom and an additional cable to run to the chain in the front of the aircraft.

"We did this," he continued, "for stability and control of the aircraft when we lifted it from the water, we then rotated the aircraft to the shore side of the truck. We slowly lowered the front of the aircraft to the ground, and removed the front cable from the nose of the aircraft."

They used a 12-ft. blue round sling to go around the front of the aircraft in order to rotate the aircraft to where it would sit on the ground right-side up.
Using both wreckers, they picked and rolled the aircraft in the air and set it right side up.

"We then set it on pallets because the front landing gear was broken during the crash," Hawkins said. "No further damage was caused during our recovery.
We left the plane there to dry and so that the FAA could do their preliminary investigation before it was moved back to the hangar next door."

Editor's Note: See the print version of this recovery in an upcoming issue of American Towman Magazine.

Show Yours @ TIW
Do you have a recovery to share with TIW readers? Send some pics and info to our Field Editor Jim "Buck" Sorrenti at; your story may even be selected for print in American Towman magazine!
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