The plane crashed near the Washington County-Unicoi County line at about 7:15 Friday evening beyond the Pinnacle Fire Tower trail south of Johnson City. According to emergency radio communications, traffic controllers at Tri-Cities Regional Airport lost contact with the pilot of a single-engine plane at about 14,000 feet.
Authorities from the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board arrived late Saturday afternoon at the command center, which has been set up on Dry Creek Road, about three miles from the crash site.
Earlier Saturday, FAA spokesman Jim Peters released a statement regarding the plane and its flight plan:
“A Lancair COL4 aircraft crashed in the vicinity of Johnson City, TN last night. Local authorities will release the names and conditions of the two people on board. The FAA will then release the aircraft registration. The aircraft was heading to Bloomington, In from Knoxville, TN. The FAA will investigate.”
Authorities did not release the occupants’ names, but according to FlightAware.com, the single-engine, four-seat plane was registered to William S. Gibbons Jr., of Bloomington, and was en route to Bloomington from Knoxville when it crashed. Washington County Medical Examiner E. Hunt Scheurman and a forensics team from East Tennessee State University’s William L. Jenkins forensic center trekked to the site to recover the bodies and send them back to the forensic center for testing.
Cook Medical, a Bloomington medical equipment manufacturer, issued a statement on Facebook Saturday afternoon confirming that Bill Gibbons, the company’s vice president of engineering, had died in the crash.
The statement says that Gibbons’ daughter was also in the crash.
The statement reads:
“Our hearts are heavy today as we learned about the passing of our friend and coworker. Last night, Bill Gibbons, our vice president of engineering, and his daughter were involved in a plane crash near Knoxville, TN. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Gibbons family.”
Scheurman said the bodies will undergo DNA testing to confirm identification, but did not officially release the identities. He also said he planned to speak with the presumed victims’ “wife and mother” Saturday night.
“We have presumed the identities just based on the circumstances,” he said, adding that he expected the results of the DNA tests in the next few days.
NTSB air safety investigator Shawn Etcher arrived from Washington, D.C., late Saturday afternoon to begin the investigation into the cause of the crash. After returning to the command center, he said the plane had left a sizable crater upon impact, and that part of the engine was buried about two feet underground.
Etcher said that it could take anywhere from six months to a year to determine the cause of the crash.
“Right now, we’re not looking at how or why it went down,” Etcher said before going to the crash site. “We’re looking at gathering the facts so we can look at everything and get a full picture.”
When they arrived at the scene Saturday morning, authorities determined the crash to be on the Washington County side of the mountain. Etcher said that authorities and rescue crews will continue sorting through and extracting the debris beginning Sunday morning.
Email Jessica Fuller at [email protected]. Follow Jessica on Twitter @fullerjf91. Like her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/jfullerJCP.