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Durham deputy injured in plane crash on I-85

Posted May 30, 2008
Updated May 31, 2008

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— The pilot of a small plane was injured Friday evening when it crashed onto Interstate 85 South in Durham, the Durham County Sheriff's Office confirmed.

Richard Fuller, of Durham, was piloting the 1947 Piper J3C with the tail number N3544N when it crashed near Red Mill Road around 7 p.m. The single-engine plane landed nose-first on the shoulder of the highway, and its right wing broke off from the fuselage.

Close family members said Fuller was trying to land the plane at Lake Ridge Aero Park's single 3,200-foot grass strip, just southwest of I-85, when the plane clipped a tree and nose-dived onto the interstate.

No vehicles on the highway were involved in the crash.

After being freed from the shattered cockpit, Fuller was airlifted to UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill, where he was listed in critical condition on Saturday morning.

"I just hope whoever was flying the plane was OK. That was our biggest concern," said Libby Hill, who lives near the crash site. "I think it could be a lot worse."

Friends said that Fuller has served as a deputy with the Durham County Sheriff's Office for about five years, and he belongs to Durham Memorial Baptist Church.

Sheriff Worth Hill and deputies joined Fuller's relatives and fellow church members in waiting at UNC Hospitals.

UNC Hospitals contains the Jaycees Burn Center, but it was unclear whether that figured in the decision to fly him to Chapel Hill, rather than the closer Duke University Medical Center.

Crews reopened I-85 around 9 p.m. after the plane had been loaded onto a trailer. All lanes of the highway had been shut down earlier, along with Red Mill Road, bringing traffic to a crawl.

"One of our drivers called in and told me he was caught in the traffic and he didn't know when he would get in, because a plane had just crashed in front of him," trucker Ronald Turner said.

Turner's route later took him by the crash site: "It's kind of scary at first, you know, and you just think about the traffic," he said.

The Federal Aviation Administration was called in to help with the crash investigation.

The Piper plane was registered to Fuller, and he is listed as the contact person for Lake Ridge airport.


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  • Panther May 30, 2008

    My thoughts and prayers for a fellow pilot. That peculiar aircraft can adds new meaning to the term STOL (short takeoff and landing) I’m not sure why he went down nose first but there are days when its better to keep both feet on the ground.

  • mrkagain May 30, 2008

    Dang......... that looks like a J-3 Piper. They're nearly impossible to crash. I suspect the plane was having fuel problems, or perhaps one of the steel cables that work the flaps and rudder broke, and the pilot was attempting an emergency landing.

  • Fuquay Resident May 30, 2008

    I didn't mind the interruption. WTVD also broke in to show the vigil when the UNC woman was murdered. It was only WOF, if they had broke into Lost last night, that would have been a different story. They broke into Jeopardy that night and my co-worker was peed.

  • computer trainer May 30, 2008

    Hubby has a pilot friend who just came into town, thankfully, we know that he has already landed.

  • Pulling for the Tarheels May 30, 2008

    juwannaknow - WRAL did the same thing! They broke into regular programming with this info as well. Sometimes news such as this, are just a bit more important than the nightly shows we watch.

  • pwilliamson53 May 30, 2008

    Thanks WRAL to breaking in giving viewers information such as this. For those who have love ones traveling and may be delayed cause of traffic back-ups need to hear these things. If you are traveling in the direction of the accident, would be wise to know alternative routes. Thanks for a job well done.
    Praying for good news for the pilot and anyone else aboard.

  • New York Yankee May 30, 2008

    WTVD should post the video online. There is nothing about the plane crash on thier website yet.

    Hope the pilot/passnegers are ok. I know a few people who fly out there and haven't been able to get in touch with them. (crosses fingers).

    Thank you for letting us know WRAL.

  • juwannaknow May 30, 2008

    That is exactly why I don't watch WTVD! They interrupt programming all day long for news such as this. I understand interrupting programs for tornado warnings or a natural disaster but for a plane crash on I-85? WTVD can alert us via a bulletin at the bottom of the TV screen for things of this nature or during a commercial newsbreak! Thanks, WRAL for being the best at what you do!

  • davidgnews May 30, 2008

    "Traffic was backed up big time on 85. It's a good thing it didn't happen last Friday with all the Labor Day traffic."

    We need a Calendar Check on Aisle 5 !

  • mebgirl1984 May 30, 2008

    I pray the occupants are okay.