The Yenney family was watching election returns on television in their Riverdale house Tuesday night when they heard a crash and a thud in the back yard. It was a single-engine airplane that was crash-landed by the pilot after the engine died. The pilot landed in a large maple tree.

"Oh my God, there's a plane in our back yard!" Helen Yenney exclaimed.

The four-seat plane, which had been heading for the College Park Airport more than two miles to the northwest, narrowly missed hitting several houses and came to rest at the base of the trees behind the house at 6719 Furman Pkwy.

The pilot, Michael E. Van Dusen, 38, suffered several cuts on his face, but was otherwise unhurt, Maryland state police said later.

Moments after the 8 p.m. crash, Yenney said, the pilot walked up to her, bleeding and "all shook up."

"At first it was exciting; then it got scary when we realized what a close call it was," Yenney said, adding that Van Dusen told her he had steered toward her maple tree to avoid hitting the house.

Yenney said one wing of the plane was only two feet from her neighbor's back porch, and the other wing crushed a fence and leaned into the Yenneys' yard.

Van Dusen, a salesman from Southbury, Conn., had left the airport there bound for the College Park Airport and a conference in Arlington when he was diverted by bad weather to Hanover County, Va., Maryland state police said yesterday.

Cpl. Donald Chipley said Van Dusen landed in Virginia and took off again at 7:30 p.m. About three miles out of College Park, the plane's engine died twice, and "he decided to ditch his plane," Chipley said. The plane struck the tree, was spun around and crashed to the ground, the pilot told police.

Van Dusen was taken to Prince George's General Hospital, where his forehead and chin were stitched up, and was released.

Yesterday, state police and Federal Aviation Administration investigators seached the wreckage to try to determine what caused the accident. Yenney said the wings of the plane had to be shorn to get it out of the yard.