Jennifer Brooks
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One snowy day in April 1980, a small plane fell out of the sky and onto a home in Brooklyn Park.

Three neighbors rushed through the smoke and the flames, smashed through the wreckage and dragged the pilot to safety just before the whole plane exploded.

It was a grace note in a day of tragedy. The crash had killed the plane's two passengers and destroyed a family's home. Local papers celebrated the rescue — but only one of the rescuers.

That never sat right with Scott Burnes, who still carries the scars from that day, and the memories, and a handful of newspaper clippings that tell a story of a lone hero who pulled the pilot from the flames.

"It's bothered me all these years that I was the only one who ever got any praise for it," said Burnes, who's 66 now and lives in Duluth. "It's always bothered me that, even after I told the reporters that there was two other guys, nobody ever mentioned them in the paper."

On April 8, 1980, a Cessna took off from Crystal Airport in a snowstorm, bound for North Dakota. According to news accounts at the time, the twin-engine clipped a line of cottonwood trees, snagged on overhead power lines and crashed into a home one block away, at 6400 63rd Ave N.

After the flames, after the funerals, after a flurry of headlines, the news moved on and most people forgot that awful day.

Except the people who couldn't forget.

Burnes and his wife were walking their new bulldog puppy through the neighborhood, eager to get home and watch the network premiere of Kenny Rogers' "The Gambler." They'd been looking forward to it for months.

"As we walked outside, I was thinking it was so quiet. The snow was coming down in big flakes. It was like being in a snow globe," Burnes said. "The only sound I could hear was coming from the airport. I could hear the airplane engine revving up."

Then came a roar and a pair of fireballs in the sky, just over the roof lines. Every light in the neighborhood went dark. He could no longer hear the plane engine. They rushed the puppy home, then jumped in their car to see if they could help.

One block up and one block over, the grass was burning. They could see debris in the street and downed power lines, jumping and sparking.

Vernon and Mary Ann Hukriede's house was on fire. The couple had been home, but escaped unhurt, along with Brooklyn Park city engineer Terry Muller who was visiting to talk about neighborhood sidewalks when the southeast corner of the rambler burst into flames.

Burnes could hear someone calling for help. He ran around the house until he found the burning wreckage of a Cessna dangling nose-down from one corner of the low roof.

Paula Dee Bjornson Corrigan and her husband, Ward Corrigan, both 32, had climbed into the little plane minutes earlier. She was a singer who had been performing at venues across the Twin Cities and promoting her first album. You can find her music on YouTube under her stage name, Paula Dee. She had a lovely voice.

It was the pilot's voice Burnes heard calling for help.

Burnes started swinging at the plane's shatterproof windows, first with a board, then with a heavy concrete block that broke and sliced his hands.

Two other people rushed to help — one carrying a sledgehammer that smashed through the window just as the flames reached the pilot's legs. It took all three of them to pull him to safety.

As they all tumbled to the ground in a heap, Burnes looked up and realized one of the Cessna's engines had been dangling precariously from a telephone wire over their heads the entire time.

Firefighters arrived and bundled a coughing, bleeding Burnes into an ambulance with the pilot — 23-year-old Ken Hager of West Fargo, N.D.

Doctors at the hospital had to cut off Burnes' wedding ring to treat his battered hands. He still has scars. The young pilot, he said, paid for a replacement band.

It was all so long ago. Maybe the other two rescuers have moved on. Maybe nobody else remembers this story.

But these are the sort of stories we need on the days when it feels like there are more people hurting than helping.

"Back then," Burnes said, "I used to hear people say all the time, 'Don't get involved.' "

That's not the advice he followed and it's not the advice he gives.

"Get involved. If you see someone in trouble, help them," he said. "You don't necessarily have to put your life at risk, but help people when they're in need. It's the right thing to do."

If anyone knows who those other men were, Burnes has been waiting 43 years to give them the credit they're due. It's the right thing to do.