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HAYWOOD COUNTY, Tenn. — The sheriff in a west Tennessee county said that National Transportation Safety Board investigators were expected to complete their on-site work sometime on Thursday as they attempted to determine why a small plane on its way to Murray crashed Tuesday night, killing two people.
Haywood County Sheriff Billy Garrett Jr. said that investigators were expected to collect all of the pieces of the single-engine Piper PA 28 that crashed about five miles west of Brownsville, which is about 40 miles southwest of Jackson. He said they then were expected to continue their investigation into the crash at another site.
Garrett said the NTSB is in charge of the case and is not releasing the names of the victims. However, he said Thursday that, based on information found in the wreckage, family members were able to begin being notified. He did say that the victims were a mother and her son who were flying from the Houston, Texas area to visit family in Murray.
Murray-Calloway County Airport Board Chairman Bobby Futrell said Wednesday that Anthony Young, manager of Kyle-Oakley Field, had told him that a plane was scheduled to land sometime Tuesday night at the facility about six miles northwest of Murray near the Penny community.
“This is very, very bad scene, just a tragic situation that has happened to some first-class people. These are very good people and the people from Murray who have come down here are very good folks. I just hate to see it happen to good people like that,” said Garrett, who is a veteran of more than 40 years in law enforcement. Most of that time was spent with the Memphis Police Department in nearby Memphis, well known as a place for providing officers with their share of difficult situations.
“This is one of the hardest things I’ve ever experienced. I tell you, I’m 63 years old and I’ve been in law enforcement over 40 years, but it really hurt my heart to have to notify this man’s daughter the other night in Houston. It was horrible. She took it very, very hard, and that’s to be expected, really.
“But it hurts an old man to hear a young person cry like that.”
Garrett also said there were other moments of pain for him and Haywood County emergency personnel. One of these came after about 10 p.m. Tuesday after Haywood County Sheriff’s Office Dispatch had received a call from the Federal Aviation Administration, advising that a plane was believed to be down near Brownsville after disappearing from radar.
Garrett said everyone who responded to the call was motivated to find the wreckage as soon as possible. Then, they learned it was not going to be as easy as hoped.
“The FAA gave us the coordinates, but it took us a while to narrow down where it might be, so it was a good 30 to 45 minutes before we knew where it might be,” he said, listing other challenges, “However, it was a bad, cold, dark, rainy night and this was in an isolated wooded area, a swamp-type area, that is extremely difficult to get to. We had no lighting at all and, basically, we’re in the middle of nowhere.
“Me and the commander (of the rescue squad) went on out there and we very quickly made the determination that we were going to have to have an aerial search if we were going to have any luck finding it. So we called (the Tennessee Highway Patrol) to see if they could get a helicopter up, but we knew that probably couldn’t happen then. At the time, the conditions were so bad with wind and rain that it was determined to be IFR (instrument flight rules, in aviation terms) and they didn’t want a helicopter up in that situation.
“So we decided to wait until sunup.”
Garrett said rescue personnel, now joined by landowners of the area who had been notified that a plane may be on their property, were at the site at 4:30 Wednesday morning. A THP chopper arrived about two hours later and began a search of the area a little before 7. After about 45 minutes, the chopper crew had the wreckage spotted.
“So the plan was to get the helicopter crew the coordinates to see if they could locate it that way. However, even after the sun had come up, you couldn’t see anything. The only thing you see is trees; you can’t see anything under them,” he said. “One of their guys said they just got lucky and piece of metal flashed in the sunlight and they moved in closer and, sure enough, that was it.
“Of course 45 minutes of them flying is an eternity when you’re on the ground hoping and praying that they find it because we’re wanting to find the people.”
He said, Tuesday night, he and rescuers were resigned to the fact that they would not find any survivors. He said, in communicating with the FAA, it was determined that the plane had hit the ground at high speeds (later it was determined impact speed was about 290 mph), meaning the plane would have disintegrated, which it did.
“We knew the odds were against us,” he said, adding that no one had reported hearing the crash and that there appears to have been no fire on impact. “That’s the thing that was odd. The reason we decided to go out there (Tuesday night) was we figured that we’d find fire somewhere. So we were like, ‘Hey! Let’s just go to the fire. We can find it that way.’ Well, there was no fire.”
Garrett said rescuers thought they had secured what would be a key piece of evidence for the NTSB team Thursday morning. He said it was believed that a recording device - AKA “black box” — that is key to this type of investigation as far as determining what caused a crash. However, NTSB investigators said that this was not the case as it is likely that a plane of this type would not be equipped with such a device.
He also said that, while weather is a possible factor in the crash, it is not known if that, in fact, did contribute to the crash.
Meanwhile, even though the victims are not from Haywood County and it also does not appear that family members reside there, Garrett said the entire community is feeling the effects of this tragedy.
“The whole community is praying,” he said. “And I would ask folks (in Calloway County) to be sure and look up Haywood Cares on Facebook and just look at the outpouring that is coming from the people of Haywood County. They are just praying for this family and that page is getting a lot of hits, lots of shares and lots of comments.
“We really hate it that such a tragic situation has occurred.”