Local News

One killed as plane crashes in Cape Fear River in Harnett County

Posted July 21, 2011 4:17 p.m. EDT
Updated July 22, 2011 6:27 a.m. EDT

— At least one person was killed when a small plane crashed late Wednesday in the Cape Fear River a short distance from the Harnett Regional Jetport, authorities said Thursday.

Two people were reported on board, but there was no word on the condition of the second person.

The single-engine Cessna 182 left Philadelphia, Miss., on Wednesday and was headed to Harnett County, Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman Kathleen Bergen said.

Air-traffic controllers lost track of the plane within a mile of the airport, Bergen said.

Harnett County Sheriff Larry Rollins said an FAA office in Virginia called his office Thursday afternoon after relatives of someone aboard the plane called the agency expressing concern that the plane was overdue.

W.C. Tew said he knows the two people who were on board the plane and even works for one of them. 

"We were waiting to hear from him because nobody heard from him all night. His wife was waiting to get up with him last night," Tew said. 

The FAA lost contact with the plane at 10:30 p.m. Wednesday, Rollins said, adding that it's not uncommon for the the agency not to follow up on a lost signal from a private plane.

Bergen said that, because the plane didn't file a flight plan and wasn't talking with air-traffic controllers, the FAA wasn't aware the plane was missing until family members contacted the agency.

A Civil Air Patrol plane spotted the wreckage in the river at about 2:45 p.m. Thursday.

The sheriff said it appears that the plane crashed on its approach to the airport, noting the tops of some trees on the south side of the river had been clipped.

Bennie Williams of Erwin is the registered owner of the plane. It's unclear whether he was aboard.

Teams from the FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board were on their way to the crash site to investigate, Bergen said.

Larry Pleasant was watering trees when he heard the plane crash into the river Wednesday night.

"I thought it was thunder," Pleasant said.