Not all heroes wear capes: Officer uses screwdrivers as oars to get to downed pilot in frozen lake


EDGEWATER, MD – An elderly man who was flying his Piper Cherokee got into trouble and crashed the plane in Ann Arundel County. A police officer and two citizens in the area responded to the crash and saved the pilots, utilizing screwdrivers as oars on a kayak, and got the man to safety.

On December 26th, 71-year-old Steve Couchman took off from Lee Airport in a single-engine Piper Cherokee. While things started off as a normal flight for Couchman witnesses reported hearing the engine of the plane sputtering and crashing into Beards Creek around 10:30 a.m.

An officer with the Anne Arundel County Police Department responded to the crash and teamed up with two people who happened to be nearby to launch a rescue effort for the pilot. The trio utilized kayaks that were in the area and used them to “skim across the iced creek.” According to a news release from the Maryland State Police:

“Two nearby civilians and an on-duty police officer from the Anne Arundel County Police Department who heard the call used three kayaks to skim across the iced creek to provide assistance to the pilot. While the plane was sinking, the pilot exited his plane and stood on the wing. Once the kayakers were close enough, the pilot was able to hang on to one of them to stay afloat.”

The two bystanders, who live in the area, happened to be a thirty-year Navy veteran, John Gelinee, and his son, John Gelinne, Jr, a current Marine. When they saw Couchman’s plane crash, they immediately jumped into action. Gelinne Sr told WTOP news:

“We saw the bottom of the aircraft, very close, and then it skipped and then went in the water…And so, we all scrambled out onto the patio there. We looked, and we saw [Couchman] in the water.”

The father and son grabbed ahold of two kayaks and a shovel and got out onto the frozen creek. Gelinne Sr explained why the shovel was necessary by saying:

“You see, you can’t kayak with a paddle…So you have to get a shovel. And I use the shovel to just dig into the ice and just kind of slid the kayak.”

Elizabeth Myers, the officer from the Anne Arundel County Police Department, used a screwdriver in place of a shovel or an oar. In a video posted by the Anne Arundel County Police Department, you can see Officer Myers use the screwdriver to propel herself toward Couchman along with the caption:

“Oars don’t work on ice, but screwdrivers do!”

As Officer Myers and the Gelinnes got to Couchman, officers with the Maryland State Police and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources Police Department arrived at the crash scene on a boat. Maryland State Police said:

“Upon their arrival, an officer cut through the ice and pulled the pilot safely into the boat and transported him to the Annapolis Landing Marina nearby where the pilot was subsequently transported by ambulance to the hospital.”

Couchman was transported to the Anne Arundel Medical Center where he is being treated for injuries he sustained in the crash. Police have not released any information as to Couchman’s status after his stay in the hospital.

Law Enforcement Today wants to take the time to thank both John Gelinne, Sr and Junior for their heroic and selfless acts in trying to help Couchman after the crash. Additionally, we want to recognize the extremely heroic actions taken by Anne Arundel County Police Officer Elizabeth Myers for her selfless actions in jumping onto a kayak and using a screwdriver to get to Couchman.

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