Eden Prairie resident Robert T. Schmidt was looking out the picture window of his home office Monday afternoon when a small plane zoomed by.

"It came almost straight down -- barely cleared the house,'' Schmidt said.

The twin-engine aircraft that had taken off from Anoka County-Blaine Airport crashed nose-first about 12:30 p.m. in the woods less than 100 feet behind Schmidt's home just off Baker Road, in the Cardinal Creek Conservation Area.

The plane was on fire, and Schmidt ran outside to see if he could help.

"I run over there and don't know what to do,'' Schmidt said. "All of a sudden, I see movement in the cockpit. I crawled up on the wing," and he could see the pilot was still inside.

"He's in there, and it's getting all smoky. He hollers, 'Help me.' "

Amid flames and smoke, Schmidt pounded on the window, trying to break the plastic cockpit shield. He was joined by an unidentified man who had been on his way to a nearby health club and had seen the plane go down from his car. He had followed along to help, bringing with him a fire extinguisher.

Again, Schmidt pounded on the window with the extinguisher, but it didn't budge.

Then they found an exterior panel on the plane and opened it. Inside was a tire iron.

Using the iron, Schmidt said, "I beat on the window two or three times. It cracked and broke open.''

Together Schmidt and the second man pulled the pilot from the plane. Police arrived soon and helped to carry the pilot up a ravine to Schmidt's deck. From there, paramedics took him to Hennepin County Medical Center.

The pilot, Bob Fiske, 66, of Mound, was in serious condition Monday night, hospital officials said, but by today his condition had been upgraded to satisfactory.

He declined interviews but through a hospital spokeswoman said, "Words aren't enough to express my gratitude for all those who came to help me.''

Fiske has flown since the early 1960s and has owned the plane for at least two years, his son Scott said Monday night. He should be out of the hospital today, his son said.

On Monday, Bob Fiske told his son that he had seen the houses as he was going down.

"He told me: 'I wasn't going to put it down anywhere where I would hurt some people,'" said Scott Fiske, also a pilot.

Bob Fiske was conscious and talking with his rescuers as they carried him to the deck, saying that he had started his flight in Anoka, Schmidt said. "He was lucky to be alive," Schmidt said of Fiske, the plane's only occupant. "He came straight down.''

Schmidt's house is in the 6000 block of Edgebrook Place, just east of Baker Road. Even though the plane came down behind houses, it caused no property damage, according to Joyce Lorenz, spokeswoman for the city of Eden Prairie.

The crash happened about three miles north of Flying Cloud Airport, where Scott Fiske said his father was headed.

Police secured the area to investigate the scene. Also expected to investigate were Federal Aviation Administration officials and the Metropolitan Airports Commission.

The plane is a Twin Navion TEMCO-Riley D-16A, which dates from 1946 as a single-engine craft and later was converted to twin engines.

"I've flown it several times, and it's a great airplane," said Scott Fiske, who added that he and his father would be back in the air soon.

On Monday, Loren Edwards was outside mowing his lawn when he heard a loud noise and looked up to see the plane coming down. "It came down the street. It was really roaring, a high-pitched engine," he said. At that point, it was about 100 feet up in the air, just over the tree line. After it passed over, Edwards said, he lost sight of the plane and did not hear it crash. But soon after, he saw smoke start to billow up.

Though Schmidt had dared to climb up the wing of a burning plane, he said he doesn't think of himself as a hero.

"Once you are in that situation, you have no choice. I'm glad I was there and could get there that quick. I'm glad he was alive.

"He was so happy we pulled him out of the plane.''

Staff writer Vince Tuss contributed to this report. Laurie Blake • 612-673-1711