Kayakers came to the rescue of a pilot in icy water, with a police boat bringing the man to safety. Photo: Anne Arundel County Fire Dept.

Pilot of Small Plane Rescued from Icy Water Near Annapolis

When a single-engine plane crashed into an iced-over Anne Arundel County, Md. waterway, witnesses knew the pilot couldn’t last long in the freezing water.

And that’s why two civilians and an Anne Arundel County Police officer quickly got into kayaks and skimmed across the ice to rescue the man from the creek.

The remarkable rescue unfolded just before 11 a.m. Dec. 26 on Beards Creek, off the South River in Edgewater. Maryland State Police say Steve Couchman, 71, had just taken off from Lee Airport in Edgewater when his plane’s engine began sputtering. Witnesses tell police they heard the sputtering and, moments later, heard the Piper Cherokee single-engine plane crash into Beards Creek.

Bella Watson, a 20-year-old from Riva, was pet-sitting at a home overlooking Beards Creek and happened to be looking out the window. She saw a small plane fly in very low over the creek, start to skid on the ice, and after about a block she saw it stop and sink—nose down.

 The plane’s tail section and wheel are visible above the ice. Photo: Dr. Wayne Bierbaum

Couchman, who is from Frederick, Md., exited his sinking plane and stood on the wing, according to police. Watson didn’t have a phone with her, and ran to nearby homes to ask someone to call 911. As she arrived at Annapolis Landing’s community pier, she saw the attempted rescue.

Three people made their way across the ice in kayaks and when they got close enough, the pilot was able to hang onto one of the kayaks to stay afloat.

Maryland Natural Resources Police (NRP) quickly arrived by boat, an officer cutting through the ice and pulling the pilot safely into the police boat. NRP brought Couchman ashore at Annapolis Landing Marina, where he was able to stand and walk with assistance, according to Watson. An ambulance brought the pilot to Anne Arundel Medical Center. He is being treated for injuries he suffered during the crash, but Couchman is expected to make a recovery.

The kayakers were not injured, but very cold. Anne Arundel County Fire Department helped them with warming on the scene.

Towboat operators will attempt to salvage the plane from the creek in the coming days.

-Meg Walburn Viviano & Wayne Bierbaum