By Danza Johnson and Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal
UPDATE: Pilot David Duncan’s body has been sent to Jackson for an autopsy, according to Lee County Coroner Carolyn Gillentine-Green. The results should be back in a few days.
TUPELO – It could take up to 18 months before authorities determine the cause of Wednesday’s fatal plane crash on Coley Road.
Keith Hollaway, a spokesman for the National Transportation Safety Board, said the investigation into the crash that killed David Duncan is going to be a long and thorough process.
“We have investigators that will be there tonight or at least by Thursday morning to document the scene, talk to witnesses and to look for the four points of the plane,” Hollaway said Wednesday afternoon. “When we are done we want to know what happened and not just speculate, so it’s going to take a while. We will go through everything to make sure we get the correct cause.”
Hollaway said he expects a preliminary report to be done by the end of next week but that report will not contain information on what caused the crash.
Duncan, 69, of Lee County was pronounced dead at the scene of the crash after the Cessna 310 he was piloting crashed into a pine tree just 20 feet from a home at 783 Coley Road shortly after takeoff. The plane did not explode but suffered extreme damage to front end. The plane was registered to Hamilton Air LLC in Hamilton, Ala.
According to a spokesperson with the Federal Aviation Administration, the plane took off at 8 a.m. and crashed about half a mile off the runway. No flight plan was scheduled, according to the spokesperson.
Emergency personnel at the scene said the aircraft skidded across Coley Road and struck a large pine tree just feet from Eric Williams’ front door. Skid marks and several plane parts, including one of the wheels, were strewn all over the road. The FAA also said a vehicle was reportedly struck as the plane crossed Coley Road but police say the vehicle was hit by one of the plane’s tires.
Williams, 28, had just gone back to bed after dropping his children off at school when the sound of the crash startled him.
“I thought someone had kicked my door in,” said Williams, pointing at the large propeller blade that crashed into his front door. “When I came out and saw a plane in my front yard I was shocked. It was so close to my house. A few more feet the other way then it would have been sitting right in my living room.”
Barry Flanagan said he was driving by in his truck when the plan’s tire struck his vehicle.
“If I’d been one second down that road faster, it would be me that would be dead,” Flanagan said. “I saw the man as he went across me in the fuselage of that plane. I’m not going to ever forget that.”
Ten secondary students on a Tupelo Public School District school bus witnessed the plane crash. Tupelo Public School District provided counseling services to the students to help deal with the emotional effects of witnessing the crash, according to Director of Communications Kay Bishop.
The airplane had undergone maintenance work at the Tupelo Regional Airport shop Monday, said TRA Director Josh Abramson. He did not immediately know what kind of work had been performed.
Abramson said he doubted the maintenance contributed to the crash and said he had other suspicions of what caused it. He would not elaborate.
Tupelo Fire Chief Thomas Walker, who has been with the department since 1998, said he can’t remember the last time there was a plane crash in Tupelo. According to AviationCrashMap, the last fatal plane crash in Tupelo happened Dec. 11, 1972. The site also shows that there was a fatal crash in Mooreville in 1980.
AviationCrashMap integrates data from a variety of sources to provide accurate maps and the critical details needed to identify crash sites. All data is currently sourced from the NTSB aviation accident database and from the CAP wreckage database.