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KNOXVILLE, Iowa  —  “I saw the gyrocopter coming in like it usually does. He’s been practicing here for about a year and I thought he looked like he was a little bit low,” said Dean Moats, who was working on farm equipment right across from the Knoxville Airport when he saw a troubling sign.

“Once I see a little bit of smoke and then I thought, ‘well, that isn’t right,’ he said. “So I decided I better drive down and see if they crashed. So I drove down here and by the time I got here, there was about 60 feet of grass burned along side of the road and it was approaching the copter.”

Moats, a former Army Medic, knew that time was of the essence.

“No one had exited out of the copter, so I went over to it, thinking either I’m gonna have to pull ’em out or drag it out of the ditch so it don’t get on fire, and by then they were attempting to get out the door, so I pulled the door open, pulled it back and helped them get out of it.”

Retired pilot Paul Beck speaks highly of the aircraft that crashed, which is called a gyroplane, and is also sometimes referred to as a gyrocopter.

“That’s a real nice piece of equipment. It’s a real, real nice piece of equipment,” said Beck. “They bought it new. There’s three people involved in that thing and they all learned to fly that thing and they were very good and they’re very, very respectful of that machine and they take very good care of it. I was real surprised that it went down.”

Beck says the gyroplane often flies out of the Knoxville Airport.

“All the time, if the weather’s decent, those guys are down here. They’re retired and they’re down here flying that thing, and I had an opportunity to go with them on one occasion and fly in it. It’s a two-place little machine. It’s really, really nice.”

The Marion County Sheriff’s Office says dispatch got the call at 1:41 p.m. notifying them the crash had happened. Officials say the aircraft had just taken off from the airport and ran into some problems, so it tried to come back and land, but went down abruptly.

Troy Fisher, Chief Deputy for the Marion County Sheriff’s Office, says crashes like this are almost unheard of.

“For Marion County, this is really rare. I’ve never had a crash in Marion County, and I’ve been here approximately 16 years, so I’m glad it’s rare,” he said.

Chief Deputy Fisher says as crashes go, this is the best possible outcome. The two men inside the gyrocopter are extremely lucky to be alive and were able to walk away uninjured.