Three people died in a small plane crash that took place August 28 near Savannah, Georgia. The pilot and his two passengers were killed when the chartered aircraft they were in crashed into a wooded area after the pilot reported mechanical problems with the plane. The area was reportedly so heavily wooded bulldozers were called in to clear a path to the wreckage. As with many other small plane crashes, this one leaves behind devastated family members who must now wait to find out what caused the tragedy that took their loved ones. This is the second crash involving a Beechcraft Bonanza in recent weeks.
Pilot Reported Mechanical Difficulties Before Crash
The Beechcraft Bonanza was traveling from Savannah International Airport on its way to Cobb County International Airport-McCollum Field when it crashed. Shortly after takeoff, the pilot indicated he was having mechanical problems and radioed Savannah air traffic controllers to get permission to return to that airport. At 8:39 a.m., the plane disappeared from the radar. Officials located the crash site at around 11:20 a.m. the same morning.
The aircraft involved in the crash was a single-engine Beechcraft Bonanza with the tail identification N87RY. It was built in 1994 and has six seats. This particular airplane has had no prior reported incidents or accidents.
Victims of the Hunter Aviation Charter Plane Crash Identified
Officials initially had difficulty locating the victims’ next-of-kin, somewhat delaying identification. By August 30, however, all three victims were identified:
- Randy Hunter, 39, the plane’s pilot
- Catherine Cocke, 39, passenger
- Byron Cocke, 41, Catherine’s husband and passenger on the airplane.
“Our hearts are heavy for everyone involved,” said Freddy Howell, director of emergency services for Bryan County.
Byron and Catherine Cocke, of Savannah, leave behind five children, who officials say are being cared for by extended family. Byron is the co-founder and co-CEO of CF Real Estate Services. Brett Finkelstein, the other co-founder of CF Real Estate Services, released a statement regarding Catherine and Byron’s deaths.
“We are devastated by this tragic loss,” the statement reads. “They were philanthropic, creative, intelligent, caring and entrepreneurial.”
The statement goes on to note the Byron was a joy to work with, was laid back and loved his family, company and colleagues.
“We will always strive for the greatness Byron envisioned. His dreams are still very much alive, as we continue in his honor.”
Catherine, meanwhile, ran an interior design business and in 2011 was featured on an episode of “My Big Amazing Renovation” on HGTV, where she was shown renovating their home.
A memorial page was created for Byron and Catherine. Meanwhile, a statement from the Savannah Downtown Neighborhood Association noted the couple was active in numerous organizations.
“The Savannah community has lost a shining light in this beautiful couple,” the statement reads.
Kristen Hunter, the pilot’s wife, released a statement through a law firm concerning her husband’s death. “The Hunter family is sincerely grateful to all the first responders in their efforts to locate the aircraft. We ask for your prayers for the hunter family as well as the Cocke family as we all try to deal with this tragedy.”
Randy Hunter owned a company called Hunter Aviation, which was operated out of Peachtree City and had reportedly flown the Cockes before. He leaves behind two young girls.
Beechcraft Bonanza Plane Landed in Heavily Wooded Area
Dozens of rescuers were sent out to find the plane, which crashed in a heavily wooded area on private property. Search vehicles were sent via land, air and water in an attempt to rescue the three onboard the plane, as officials hoped the aircraft had lost communications and landed safely somewhere. Ultimately, bulldozers were called in to create a path to the wreckage site.
At around 11:20 a.m. a Coast Guard helicopter located the crash site, and officials used ATVs to access the aircraft.
John Brannen, an NTSB senior air safety investigator, told reporters it was not clear if the pilot attempted to land in a nearby cotton field when the plane crashed. Officials noted that all three people on the plane died on impact.
The plane’s last recorded altitude was 300 feet.
“The airplane came to a rest in a wooded, swampy area,” Brannen said. “Because of the location of the wreckage, we can’t do a whole lot of examination on scene.”
Officials Investigating the Cause of the Georgia Plane Crash
Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) initially examined the crash site and later moved the plane to review its systems. The agency will take the engine apart to determine if a mechanical malfunction was responsible for bringing the plane down.
Officials note that it could take up to a year to determine what caused the charter plane crash.