Local News

Park Reopens as Plane Crash Investigation Continues

Posted July 30, 2000

— Most ofWilliam B. Umstead State Parkis open again as federal investigators try to find out why a plane crashed there Monday morning, killing the pilot and injuring two passengers.

Two men and a woman were on board the privately-ownedDeHavilland DHC-6 Twin Otterturboprop. The plane crashed as it was attempting to land atRDU International.

Investigation Continues; Crash Wreckage Being Removed

NTSB investigators went to WakeMed Tuesday morning to interview the two survivors about what happened in the minutes before the plane fell from the sky.

"I'm in the very early stages of this investigation," NTSB investigator Alan Yurman said Tuesday. "I have to speak to the two survivors, see if there's any radar data and see what the communications actually were."

NTSB officials also listened to tapes of transmissions between the aircraft and controllers at RDU International. An Atlanta air salvage crew will remove the crash wreckage from the woods.

The park was reopened Tuesday, except for the immediate area surrounding the wreckage. Authorities Identify Victims

The pilot, Mark J. Wheeler, of Gainesville, Florida, was killed in the crash. Charis Baleson and Johann VanAswegen, both of Johannesburg, South Africa, have been released fromWakeMed.

NTSB investigator Alan Yurman says there were no signs of distress when Wheeler spoke with the control tower at RDU.

"There was no change in voice. Everything was just calm," Yurman says.

The NTSB would not report whether Wheeler, who received his commercial license in April, had extensive flying experience.

Baleson and VanAswegen were both skydivers who flew with Wheeler to Raleigh to get routine engine maintenance. Few Clues About Cause of Crash

The airport received an emergency landing request about 12:40 a.m Monday; the plane dropped off radar soon after.

"Not long after that transmission, the control tower lost the aircraft on radar and we immediately began notifying our mutual aid agencies and implemented a search and rescue effort," says RDU spokesman Mike Blanton.

Around 3:15 a.m., after a two and a half hour search, emergency crews discovered the plane near the Company Mill Trail, located about a mile from the runway.

"The plane actually clipped treetops and landed on its side. The right side of the aircraft was facing up, with significant damage to the wings, to the engines to the tail assembly. As you can imagine, there are some tremendous oak trees and poplar trees in this beautiful park that we have," says Blanton.

"One of the survivors indicated to a park ranger who first arrived on the scene that an initial attempt had been made to land and the pilot made the decision to try a second time," says Blanton.

Officials near the crash site say it appears the plane veered to the right, missing the runway.

One of the people who survived told investigators Tuesday the plane was penetrating a cloud layer just before it hit some trees.

Yurman said the plane was on its way to Louisburg in Franklin County to have its engines overhauled.

The plane, which was owned byChicagoland Skydiving, was bound from Chicago. ,Brian Shrader


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