Officials with the National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration were in Decatur County Tuesday, Nov. 10 investigating how a Cessna plane carrying two people crashed in woods north of the town of Climax, Ga., on Monday morning.
Decatur County Sheriff Wiley Griffin recalled how the plane was found on Monday afternoon. He said his agency had been notified of a plane that had gone missing from radar at about noon Monday. The plane, which took off from Lakeland, Fla. at around 9 a.m., was last seen on radar going over Thomas County, as it approached the Cairo-Grady airport. Sheriff’s deputies from Decatur, Grady and Thomas counties in Georgia and Leon County in Florida all began searching for the plane.
Throughout the afternoon, law enforcement and the Civil Air Patrol looked for the crash site, relying on information provided by Tyndall Air Force Base in Panama City, Fla. Sheriff Griffin said he talked with some hunters near Climax who reported hearing a low-flying plane earlier in the day. That report focused the search on private hunting land located about two miles north of Climax, and at about 3:50 p.m., Captain Brad Lambert with the Decatur County Sheriff’s Office found where the plane had crashed in thick pine woods, according to Sheriff Griffin.
Brian Rayner, a senior air safety investigator with the NTSB, answered reporters’ questions on Tuesday afternoon.
Rayner said the plane entered the trees at a 90-degree bank and “almost vertical” descent. He said the plane was “fragmented” and had caught fire after the crash. The two people on board the plane, a Cessna 441 Conquest, were killed in the crash.
The plane’s pilot had filed an IFR (Instrument Flight Rules) flight plan and the flight from Lakeland, Fla., to Cairo, Ga.–about 238 aeronautical miles–was expected to last about an hour. The plane could hold several people and had twin, turbo-prop engines. Rayner said it was his understanding that the two people on the flight–Tampa attorney Gene Odom and former helicopter pilot Lesther Hathcox–were planning to pick someone up at the Cairo airport and travel back to Lakeland, Fla. According to the Lakeland Ledger, which used an online flight database, the plane had made the same trip a week before.
“They initially reported they had the [Cairo-Grady County] airport in sight and cancelled their IFR flight plan,” Rayner said. “They were authorized a frequency change from the [aircraft] controller’s frequency to the local Unicom frequency.
“At that point, the plane was no longer being handled by air traffic control. At some point later, the airplane re-contacted air traffic control and the preliminary information I have is that they requested another approach back to the destination airport.”
The events after that point are being investigated, said Rayner, who explained that typically, NTSB investigations focus on three components: people, the aircraft or vehicle and the environment of the incident, such as terrain and weather. He said there is a staff meteorologist with the NTSB that is documenting the weather conditions around the time of the crash, but he said it was too early to speculate whether the rainy conditions played a factor.
As it relates to the pilot or pilots, the NTSB investigation will look at their flying licenses, what flying privileges they may have held, and the amount of experience flying they had, as well as any medical issues the pilot may have had.
Investigators will also study the aircraft where it crashed and look at the plane’s maintenance record, Rayner said. They will also look at “the physical environment, the weather environment and the air traffic environment.”
After the investigation is completed and documentation is compiled, the investigator’s report will be turned over to the five-member National Transportation Safety Board, who will make the final determination of the crash’s probable cause, Rayner said. That process could take up to one year, he said.
Rayner said he thanked the Decatur County Sheriff’s Office for providing access to the crash site, as well as manpower and equipment.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that [the Sheriff] and his department have preserved vital evidence that will help us understand this tragedy,” Rayner.
Other stories related to this crash:
Hillsborough Sheriff’s Office Mourns Pilot Killed in Crash (Patch.com)
2 die in plane that crashed after leaving Lakeland (The Lakeland, Fla. Ledger)