Local News

Federal investigators arrive at fatal plane crash site

Posted July 13, 2010 11:46 a.m. EDT
Updated July 13, 2010 6:53 p.m. EDT

— Federal investigators arrived in Chapel Hill Tuesday at the site of a plane crash near the University of North Carolina, in which one person was killed and two others were injured.

A single-engine Cirrus SR 20, registered to Tom Pitts of Wilmington, Del., crashed shortly before 3 p.m. Monday at Horace Williams Airport, killing Pitts and injuring two others.

Keith Holloway, a spokesman for the National Transportation Safety Board, said investigators will examine the aircraft and wreckage, gather information from witnesses and collect weather data to determine what happened.

They will also take a closer look at a parachute found at the scene to determine how it was deployed – whether the pilot released it, if it was released because of a malfunction or if it was dislodged during the impact of the crash.

It could be 10 days before preliminary findings are available, he said. Final reports typically take about 12 to 18 months, he said.

Randy Young, a spokesman for the UNC Department of Public Safety, said it appeared that the plane was arriving from the west and that it crashed and came to rest in a set of trees and a perimeter fence just off the runway.

The others on the plane, Kyle Henn and Jim Donahue, were being treated Tuesday afternoon at UNC Hospitals.

Henn, 22, who was listed in fair condition, suffered cuts and bruises to his legs. Donahue, who was co-piloting the plane, was listed in critical condition with injuries to his legs.

Friend said Pitts, 65, had offered to fly Henn to Raleigh from Delaware to be with his family following the death of his brother, Nate Henn, who was among 74 people killed Sunday in a terrorist bombing in Uganda.

The Henn family said Tuesday that they are devastated by their loss and blessed that they did not lose another son.

“We are so grateful to both of the pilots for everything they did on our behalf and are both touched and broken by the events," they said in a statement released through the hospital. "Our thoughts and prayers are with them and their families.”

Owned by UNC, Horace Williams Airport is often used by private pilots. Officials said Tuesday that the airport is still closed to air traffic so investigators can assess the crash scene.