PORTLAND, MAINE, SEPT. 3 -- A commuter airline pilot who fell through a door that popped open 4,000 above the ocean and hung on through an emergency landing was "just glad to see the sunrise" today and asked to be left alone.
When the plane touched down -- at about 100 mph -- pilot Henry Dempsey's head missed hitting the ground by six inches, Steve Mason, Eastern Express Airlines sales manager, said.
Dempsey, of Cape Elizabeth, survived Wednesday night's ordeal with only a cut hand. He told his bosses it was a harrowing experience.
"He's asked to be left alone. He was just glad to see the sunrise," Mason told a news conference at Portland International Jetport. "He was very grateful the first officer was able to complete the flight and land the way he did."
Mason said Dempsey praised copilot Paul Boucher for landing the 15-passenger Beechcraft 99 as Dempsey clung to the cable railings on the door-stairway, which popped open and down when he made an in-fight check.
Tests on the door were completed today at Eastern Express headquarters in Bangor, Mason said, and showed no mechanical trouble. The plane was returned to service.
"There was no 'door ajar' indication light, and the door latched properly after landing," he said. "There have been no previous problems with these doors."
The Federal Aviation Administration and Eastern Express were investigating whether human error may have caused the door to rattle during flight, he said, adding it is the copilot's responsibililty to close the door after passengers board.
Dempsey and Boucher had no passengers and were flying from Lewiston to Boston when Dempsey turned the controls over so he could check a rattle in the door.
As he inspected it, the plane hit some turbulence and the door flew open. Boucher looked back, saw the door open, but could not see Dempsey.
The copilot immediately radioed the Portland tower for instructions to make an emergency landing and asked that the Coast Guard be informed, as he thought Dempsey was lost at sea.
Mason said he was not sure whether Dempsey was sucked out of the unpressurized plane or whether he fell.
Dempsey fell face down on the door as it opened, his body half in and half out of the craft. His feet were tucked inside the door jamb and he was clinging to cable railings with both hands, Mason said.
Portland firefighter Mark Thomsen, on the airport crash crew, said copilot Boucher was stunned when he realized Dempsey was on the plane's door and still alive.
The pilot and copilot hugged each other, Thomsen said, and Dempsey said he was glad that Boucher was the one to land the plane.