Oklahoma businessman dies in Noxubee County plane crash

By Jeff Amy/The Associated Press

JACKSON — An executive at an Oklahoma gypsum company was killed Thursday when the company plane he was flying crashed in eastern Mississippi.

Noxubee County Sheriff Terry Grassaree says E.R. “Tracy” Shirley III of Newcastle, Okla., died in the crash. He was vice president and chief financial officer for Harrison Gypsum Co. of Norman.

Authorities say the plane crashed just before 5 p.m. in the Mashulaville community, about 15 miles southwest of Macon.

Witnesses say the crash area had high winds and lightening.

Jim Peters, a Federal Aviation Administration spokesman, says air traffic controllers in Memphis, Tenn., lost contact with a single-engine Beechcraft Bonanza BE36 Thursday afternoon.

The plane had departed from St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport in Clearwater, Fla., with a stated destination of University of Oklahoma Westheimer Airport in Norman, Okla.

The plane crashed near the home of Brandi Clark, who said that pieces of the plane were scattered behind her family’s house and in a pasture.

Her husband, Chris Clark, said the plane broke up in the air before hitting the ground.

“My kids were out in the yard playing and they heard a loud noise,” Clark said. “They came in and got me and I saw a lot of little pieces in the air.”

The largest part of the plane crashed into a pond, but he said that nearly two hours later he and a neighbor found a body, apparently the pilot, still strapped to his chair more than 250 yards away.

Clark said there was thunder and lightning in the area at the time, but he said rain did not arrive for about another 30 minutes. He speculated that the plane may have been hit by lightning.

Scott Boyd, editor and publisher of the Macon Beacon, a weekly newspaper, said debris from the plane was strewn in a straight line across about a two-mile area.

“It appears to me he had turned around and headed back south.”

“The wind obviously just ripped the plane apart,” Boyd said. “It was a pretty fierce storm at the time.”

Boyd said search crews were hampered by lightning and heavy rain.

Jeff Rent, spokesman for the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency, said a dive team arrived at the scene Thursday evening to check wreckage in the pond. Peters said that air traffic controllers in Memphis sent out a bulletin after losing contact. He said FAA investigators would also go to the scene

Noxubee County Coroner R.L. Calhoun said only one body was found Thursday before emergency responders suspended their search after sundown because of stormy weather.

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Associated Press staff writer Emily Wagster Pettus contributed to this report.