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Frantic 911 callers reported interstate plane crash

Posted June 2, 2008
Updated June 3, 2008

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— The callers to Durham's emergency dispatch center on Friday evening spoke in frantic, unbelieving voices: A plane had just crashed on Interstate 85.

"I'm on 85, and we are right at a sign that says, 'Welcome to the City and County of Durham,' and a private plane has just crashed," one caller said.

Durham County sheriff's deputy and longtime pilot Rick Fuller was flying a 1947 Piper J3C plane when it crashed on the shoulder of I-85 near Red Mill Road around 7 p.m.

Help came quickly.

"My husband is over there. He went over on the southbound side to go help," a 911 caller said. "And there's several cars that have stopped also."

Witnesses said they saw Fuller's plane clip some trees before it crashed, but it did not catch on fire.

"I saw it hit the trees, and it fell right behind me," a caller said.

"I saw sparks. I didn't see any flames," reported another 911 caller.

Fuller's plane came from the nearby Lake Ridge Aero Park, whose 3,200-foot grass landing strip comes close to the interstate. Friends said he was following his weekly habit of practicing take-offs and landings.

That day, his plane narrowly missed dozens of cars traveling on that busy highway.

"It came right over the trees and down nose-first," a 911 caller said. "It did not hit any other cars. It just went right onto the highway."

Fuller was transported to UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill where he had been upgraded to fair condition Monday, but he was again listed in critical condition Tuesday, a nurse supervisor said.

His plane was the only vehicle damaged in the crash.

Randy Smith, the co-owner of the Lake Ridge airport, said the Piper had passed its annual inspection by a government-certified mechanic.

The Federal Aviation Administration has taken the plane and will examine the wreckage as part of its crash investigation.


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  • oldschooltarheel Jun 3, 2008

    I'm waaay more concerned about drunk drivers than aviators. Look at the stats & then be appropriately afraid of the vehicle operators around you in traffic - they are the ones who are much more likely to clean your clock (& walk away b/c they have no license, insurance or "permission to drive").

  • DeathRow-IFeelYourPain-NOT Jun 3, 2008

    I do feel sorry for the pilot and family.

    BUT...... I don't understand AT ALL why this story turned into something more than a small article the day it happened. Small planes crash all the time, and in many cases, the passengers do not live. Why is this such a huge story that it has to be covered with a different article every day for 4 or 5 days? Its about as common as a crime story in Durham. Why am I still reading about this one crash? What is so interesting about it? Why is it different than other small plane crashes that get tidbit articles?

  • G-man Jun 3, 2008

    Must be a slow news day. The plane crashed Friday, the pilot is in the hospital, and according to the story yesterday is improving. Hopefully will recover fully. Where is the story?

  • nandud Jun 3, 2008

    Wow, you people pounce on someone who's just making a comment about how disconcerting it is to see a plane about 20 feet over your head. Lighten up. I am with you, not_enuff_time. I would not like to see this either, especially on an interstate highway.
    Hoping Mr. Fuller makes a complete recovery.

  • K9Tucker.LoveMYcop Jun 3, 2008

    I've always wanted to fly planes, absolutely love them. I hope the pilot makes a full and speedy recovery and is in the air again soon.

    notenufftime - drivers are more dangerous than pilots, pilots are paying attention to the plane while apparently drivers are paying attention to the plane as well

  • watcher Jun 3, 2008

    I'm not really sure what the news story is here. Frantic people called 911 when the plane crashed. What would you expect them to do?

  • davashcow Jun 3, 2008

    Maybe you should just stay locked in your house, quivering like a mouse whenever you hear a noise. This pilot was enjoying some time in his plane and trying to LIVE life. Why don't you GET a life and then try to live it.

  • Jun 3, 2008

    I saw that guy minutes before the crash on Friday. He came in really close to the treetops crossing over I-85. When we passed the airstrip, he was bouncing left and right on his wheels. He must have done a touch and go. Next time around he wasn't so lucky.

  • not_enuff_time Jun 3, 2008

    I realize this is the right of these people but as a driver who goes past this area 2 times everyday I find it very disconcerting.

    This is the 2nd crash there in the last 5 years or so. Another plane clipped a tree and was suspended upside down in the tree. It is very scary the way they take off and land since it looks like they are going to either scrape your car on take off or land on it during landings. Can't tell you the number of heart attacks I have had in this area.

    Praying the pilot gets well soon.