Durham, N.C. — Friends, co-workers and relatives visited a hospitalized Durham deputy whose plane on Interstate 85 late Friday, and the airport he co-owned had to cancel a charity event on Saturday.
Rick Fuller, of Durham, was piloting a 1947 Piper J3C plane when it crashed on the shoulder of I-85 near Red Mill Road around 7 p.m. Saturday.
Fuller, who friends said is in his 50s, was taken to UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill. He was listed in fair condition around noon Sunday. Earlier Sunday, hospital officials had said Fuller was in good condition.
Randy Smith said Fuller was doing his weekly practice of takeoffs and landings from Lake Ridge Aero Park, which has a 3,200-foot grass landing strip just southwest of I-85.
Smith, Fuller and Bobby Fuller, who is not related to Rick Fuller, jointly own that airport.
Smith said Fuller was a pilot with years of flying experience.
“The more experienced you are at anything, it helps – be it flying an airplane or driving a car….but it doesn’t exclude you from the possibility of having an accident,” Smith said.
Smith would not speculate on the cause of the crash, but family members told WRAL on Friday that the plane had clipped a tree while landing.
Organizers had to cancel an event at Lake Ridge airport for children from UNC's burn center that was scheduled for Saturday. Smith said he felt it would be inappropriate to host the event given the circumstances.
Lake Ridge airport has hosted the "Young Eagles" event, in which children learn about aviation and take a ride in a plane, for the past three years, Smith said.
Smith said he joined Fuller's wife, Toni, at the hospital Friday night. Sheriff's deputies also packed the lobby, he said.
Fuller has served with the Durham County Sheriff's Office for about five years. Before becoming a deputy, Fuller worked for Nortel.
Investigators with the Federal Aviation Administration will inspect the plane wreckage in the next two or three days, Smith said. The FAA has taken the plane to an undisclosed location.
Smith said a government-certified mechanic had passed Fuller's Piper plane as part of regular annual inspections at Lake Ridge airport.