Small plane crashes in Croatan Sound off airport

By on January 13, 2013

Crews search for missing pilot (Russ Lay).

A twin-engine plane went down Sunday in Croatan Sound off of the Dare County Regional Airport on Roanoke Island.

Witnesses say a woman was calling for help not far from shore a short time after the crash. She was rescued and taken by ambulance to Outer Banks Hospital, but her condition was not immediately available.

Rescue crews and law enforcement from numerous agencies across the Outer Banks participated in the search and rescue operation for the male pilot of the aircraft.

Dare County emergency management director Sandy Sanderson said the plane went down between 11 and 11:15 a.m., while a news release from the county places the time of the crash around 11:45 a.m.

Conditions at the airport at the time of the crash were hazy with rolling periods of fog, according to a pilot who landed a short time before the crash.

Braden Medlin and his son Shep provided the most detailed witness account among those interviewed.

“I heard the plane make one pass of the airport and then attempt a second approach,” Medlin said.

Google Maps/Sam Walker image

Medlin said the plane passed over the field on the second time, banked east and then turned west close to the William B. Umstead Bridge.

“I heard the pilot bank to the south and then west toward the landing strip,” Medlin said.

Medlin added that visibility on the ground was less than 30 feet and the plane sounded lower to the ground than usual when it approached over his residence.

As the plane approached the airfield, Medlin said he heard the plane throttle down and he assumed it was on its glide path.

As it got lower, he heard the plane throttle up dramatically and then a second later he heard a loud thud.

Another witness who declined to be identified said he also heard the plane throttle down, then up and also described a thud. At about the same time, his brother, who was working on the Manns Harbor side called him and reported the same information.

This witness heard the female calling for help and said he also heard male voices, but was unable to see them and was unsure if the voice was the missing pilot or rescue crews calling out to each other and the female survivor.

George Wood, vice chairman of the Dare County Airport Authority, said the crew in the airport’s control tower and other airport employees rescued the woman from the water and described them as “heroes”.

Debris pulled from the plane (Russ Lay).

Dive teams from Hatteras Island and other Dare agencies were dispatched.

A U.S. Coast Guard helicopter stayed on scene and worked through occasional thick banks of fog conducting a search pattern from the Umstead to Virginia Dare bridges and along the Roanoke Island and Manns Harbor shoreline.

Around 2:30 p.m. search boats began to concentrate on a spot more than 300 yards offshore from the old “Swimming Hole” and the CG helicopter also began to hover over the same area.

At 3:05 p.m. one search boat returned to shore with a piece of mangled debris that appeared to come from the dashboard.

Two dive teams worked the water but were restricted to about 20 to 30 minutes at a time due to low water temperatures.

They were unable to locate the missing pilot, before calling off their in-water search around 4:30 p.m. due to low visibility, and the overall search was suspended at sunset.

Sanderson said divers will resume their search Monday morning.

The Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board have been notified of the crash.

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