Lake Travis plane crash survivor describes moments before hitting water

Jonathan Smith wanted to do something special for his dad's birthday this year. Jonathan says his dad Thomas Smith has been battling Cancer in the esophagus and lungs for the past several months.

So on Saturday afternoon Jonathan took his dad to ABIA using the cover story that a friend of his needed to be picked up from the airport.

"When we got there I was just like 'Okay surprise we're actually going up in the biplane. It's something that the two of us have been wanting to do for awhile," Smith told us by phone Tuesday.

Smith says the company was Austin Biplane -- just a few short weeks ago FOX 7 reporter Tania Ortega took a ride in the same plane. A reproduction of a classic open-cockpit biplane from the 1930's.

Smith says the pilot flew he and his dad over the Capitol, DKR stadium, Lake Austin and ultimately Lake Travis. About 25 minutes into the tour, Smith says the pilot told them he was having engine problems.

"He said it so calmly and everything that we actually thought pretty much the whole time, we thought he was joking around like it was part of the show and all," Smith said.

Smith says the pilot tried to turn the engine over a couple of times, the plane got lower and lower.

"I just kept thinking 'okay he's going to hit the engine and we're going to get back up and laugh about it,'" Smith said.


"To top things off, I just had our first baby three weeks prior. So I'm like thinking about that, I'm thinking about my dad, just trying to think about how to get this harness off and help my dad get out," Smith said. "I opened my eyes underwater and it was all blurry and obviously I'm freaking out but I was able to just like...I could see where the buckle was but I wasn't really seeing detail.  And I just kind of like kept messing with it and it finally opened and I was able to get my dad out of his."

Flight instructor Allison Keegan has a view of Lake Travis from his house. He saw the boats quickly swarm the plane, getting the passengers to safety.

"The pilot made a magnificent landing.  For him to be able to get his 2 passengers out safely is a credit to his flying skills," Keegan said.

And as far the pilot's calm statements about the engine trouble.

"The pilot was probably more afraid than they were but you've got to stay calm.  That's a credit to his flying ability," Keegan said.

The Smith's say they're very sore. But thankful to be alive.

"Turned out to be a pretty crazy birthday present," Smith said.

We have tried to reach out to Austin Biplane and haven't heard back yet. The FAA is investigating the crash.  They say it's up to the insurance company and the salvage company to determine when they'll get out to the lake to raise the plane.