Monday, July 29, 2013
Members of the National Transportation Safety Board arrived in Georgetown on Tuesday to begin investigating Monday’s plane crash that killed 79-year-old John Prince Harris from Charleston, W.V.
Harris departed Yeager Airport in Charleston, W.V. Monday afternoon in his vintage military airplane bound for Georgetown.
According to reports he was supposed to arrive at the Georgetown County Airport at 1:27 p.m.
The 1963 British Folland Gnat T.1 never made it.
According to flight data, the plane went down at 1:13 p.m.
It crashed about eight-tenths of a mile south of the airport in a wooded area behind homes in the 5000 block of South Fraser Street.
Georgetown County Coroner Kenny Johnson said Harris was alone on the flight. Johnson said although the plane caught fire upon impact, it is believed Harris died from the crash.
An autopsy conducted Tuesday indicated Harris died of “full body trauma,” Johnson said, meaning he died from impact and not from any medical condition prior to the crash.
Personnel from various county emergency agencies began arriving at the crash site minutes after the call was received by Central Dispatch at 1:19 p.m.
Because the plane crashed so deep in the woods, the S.C. Department of Natural Resources responded with a backhoe to cut a path for emergency workers.
The fire burned for hours. At one point it was reported foam was going to be used to help extinguish the flames.
Very heavy rain began to fall late in the afternoon which helped extinguish the blaze.
At a press conference held at the Georgetown Airport on Monday evening, Johnson said it does not look like the plane fell apart in the air.
“It looks like the damage to the plane was caused by the crash itself,” Johnson said, adding the debris field of the plane is “rather large.”
The plane’s wreckage was left in place Monday night and was guarded until the NTSB could arrive Tuesday to launch its investigation.
Johnson said Harris and his family have a home in Georgetown County so “coming to Georgetown was not new or unusual.”
Ray Moore, who has lived at 5757 South Fraser for 51 years, said he was on his computer when he heard something “moving real fast.” He said he heard other noises “and then BOOM.”
He said he saw smoke billowing above the trees.
“I knew then something had crashed,” he said.
The Federal Aviation Administration is assisting with the investigation.
Served in the military
The Charleston (W.V.) Gazette reports Harris was a former pilot in the Air National Guard.
Jack McLane, who worked for Harris for 43 years, told the newspaper Harris “was so particular and careful about flying."
Harris was also a former president of West Virginia Steel. His father, J. Roy Harris, was a founder of that company.
Another former employee, Jim Caruthers — now mayor of Poca, W.V., told the Gazette Harris was known as “John P.” He recalled Harris once built his own small plane.
He told the Gazette Harris “just had that leadership appearance and demeanor.”
Series of crashes
Monday’s incident is the latest aviation crash to occur in the area.
In June, two people died after a plane went down near McClellanville. The plane was found about two miles from South Tibwin Road, off Highway 17. The Federal Aviation Administration said the plane left the airport on a training flight to Georgetown and had a planned return to Johns Island.
Patrick Eudy, 44, of Mount Pleasant and Robert Ulrich, 69, of Idaho, died in that crash.
In August 2010, Richard H. “Harvey” Gross, 66, of McClellanville died when the small plane he was piloting went down in a wooded area adjacent to the Andrews Airport.
The NTSB said Gross was performing a maneuver called “touch and go” when the crash occurred.
Touch and go is used by pilots as they are practicing. It is when the pilot lands on the runway then takes off again without coming to a full stop.
In September, 2009 a medical helicopter, owned by OmniFlight Helicopters, crashed in a densely-wooded area off White Hall Road, just south of Maryville. That crash occurred in the same vicinity as Monday’s incident.
The pilot, a nurse and medic were all killed in that accident.
By Scott Harper