Local News

Cape Fear River plane crash kills two

Posted July 22, 2011 12:14 p.m. EDT
Updated July 22, 2011 6:25 p.m. EDT

— Authorities confirmed Friday that two people were killed late Wednesday when a single-engine plane crashed in the Cape Fear River just short of the runway at Harnett Regional Jetport.

Bennie Dalton Williams, 78, of Erwin, the plane's owner, and passenger Ronald Waits Forbes, 61, of Hope Mills, were found dead in the wreckage Thursday afternoon, authorities said.

Teams from the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board were examining the crash site Friday.

"There's a portion of the plane's track that's covered from Meridian, Miss., to this area, but we want to spend a lot more time on it and get a better understanding of what it says," NTSB investigator Dennis Diaz said.

The Cessna 182 left Mississippi on Wednesday afternoon for the five-hour, 650-mile flight to Harnett County, authorities said. Friends said Forbes owned a trash-hauling service in Cumberland County, and that the men had been in Mississippi to sell some equipment.

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

The FAA lost contact with the plane at 10:30 p.m. Wednesday, Harnett County Sheriff Larry Rollins said, but the agency didn't notify his office of a possible crash until Thursday afternoon.

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 called to report it overdue.

Airport manager Stanley Bass said no one was working at the airport off U.S. Highway 421 on Wednesday night, but private planes often take off and land when no one is on duty.

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

Diaz said the Cessna was equipped with a beacon known as an emergency locator transmitter, which helped searchers locate the wreckage. The beacon doesn't issue a mass alert, however.

"The type of beacon on board the airplane required someone to be monitoring the discrete frequency and listening for that beacon," Diaz said.

He declined to speculate on what might have led to the crash, noting it usually takes investigators nine months to a year to pinpoint a cause.

Rollins 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.

The debris field covered about 300 feet from the woods into the water. Investigators plan to remove the wreckage from the river and assemble it in a hanger for examination.

After the wreckage was found, Bass said, an air-traffic controller checked radar records from Wednesday night and determined that the plane descended rapidly from 700 feet.