Crash investigators leave without key pieces of plane

CORINTH – Federal investigators will leave the area today with many unanswered questions about what caused the deadly crash of a small airplane in Alcorn County on Tuesday.
Brian Rayner, senior air safety investigator with the National Transportation Safety Board, said in a Friday news conference that about 70 percent of the plane wreckage had been recovered, but key pieces are still missing.
“We’re still missing the tail section, which is our greatest concern,” Rayner said. The tail section – including the vertical fin and rudder – is where critical flight control data is stored.
The crash of the single-engine, six-passenger Beechcraft Bonanza killed its two occupants: Atlanta businessman James Jim Judson Jr. and his wife, Elizabeth.
They were returning to Atlanta from Olive Branch after watching their daughter, a student at the University of Southern Mississippi, play in a golf tournament in Memphis.
Rayner said investigators analyzed pieces of both wings and the engine and “found no mechanical anomalies.”
They also have not recovered aircraft log books and pilot log books.
Based on information gathered by tracing the plane’s path from Olive Branch and examining the wreckage, it appears that the plane broke up due to stress on the aircraft or contact with the ground.
Two additional people added to the team – a meteorologist and an air traffic control specialist – will examine whether severe storms that were in the area Tuesday caused that stress and the route the plane chose.
The crash occurred in southwest Alcorn County just before 10 a.m. Tuesday, soon after a 9:30 a.m. takeoff from the Olive Branch airport.
Rayner said the spread of wreckage over a 10-air-mile radius is the largest debris field he has covered in a 15-year career of investigating crashes.
“It’s not uncommon for wreckage to be found months later,” he said, and anyone who finds additional wreckage is asked to call local law enforcement and take a photo of the debris in place.
Rayner expects to file a preliminary report by the end of next week, which will be available on the Internet, but it could be as much as a year before the National Transportation Safety Board issues findings of the probable cause of the crash.
“My role is to gather facts,” Rayner said, “so I can’t speak to the cause.”
Contact Lena Mitchell at (662) 287-9822 or lena.mitchell@djournal.com.

Lena Mitchell/NEMS Daily Journal & Steve Szkotak/The Associated Press