Durham deputy injured in plane crash on I-85
Posted May 30, 2008 7:28 p.m. EDT
Updated May 31, 2008 9:47 a.m. EDT
Durham, N.C. — 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.