EATONTON, Ga. — A preliminary report has been issued by a federal agency involved in the investigation of a fiery airplane crash that killed five members of a Florida family earlier this month.
The report, issued by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), provides no information as to what caused the plane to disintegrate in midair and then crash into a densely wooded area off Tanyard Road. The rural road runs off the Eatonton-Greensboro Highway, just a few miles outside Eatonton.
The report, a copy of which was obtained by The Union-Recorder, reveals that the Piper PA-31T crashed about 3:20 p.m. on Friday, June 5.
The aircraft was being flown by a couple of pilots, according to the NTSB, but only one of them was initially named by local authorities.
Putnam County Sheriff Howard R. Sills identified him as 67-year-old Larry Ray Pruitt, of Morriston, Fla.
Pruitt, along with his daughter, Jody Ray LaMont, 43; her husband, Shawn Charles LaMont, 41; and their two children, Jace LaMont, 6; and Alice LaMont, 4, all of Gainesville, Fla., were killed, Sills said.
According to the NTSB preliminary report, the aircraft was operated as a Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 personal flight.
In addition to being one of the pilots, Pruitt also owned the aircraft, federal authorities said.
“The pilot/owner, who was seated in the left front seat of the airplane, held a private pilot certificate for single and multi-engine airplanes with an instrument rating,” according to the NTSB preliminary report. “He had filed an instrument flight rules (IFR) flight plan and was in contact with Air Traffic Control (ATC) shortly after he departed from Williston Municipal Airport (X60) in Williston, Fla. at 2:13 p.m.”
The unidentified co-pilot, meanwhile, who was seated in the front right seat, held a private pilot certificate for single-engine airplanes only, and had no instrument rating, according to the NTSB.
“A review of preliminary ATC communications and radar data provided by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) revealed that the airplane was on a northerly [route] heading en route to New Castle Henry County Marlett Field (UWL) in New Castle, Indiana at an altitude of 25,000 feet,” according to the report.
Once the aircraft got about 50 miles south of Eatonton, Ga., one of the pilots told ATC that he was deviating “to the right a little” to avoid weather, the NTSB said.
Later as the airplane was passing over Eatonton, one of the pilots advised ATC that they wanted to proceed directly to their destination on a 353 degree heading. A federal air traffic controller approved the plan.
“This was the last communication between ATC and the airplane,” according to the NTSB. “About a minute later, the airplane was observed on radar entering a right turn, followed by a rapid descent. Radar contact was lost about 3:20 p.m. There were no distress calls made by either pilot.”
As the airplane was spiraling from the sky, several witnesses took video with cellphones and watched as parts from the plane landed in a field along the Eatonton-Greensboro Highway.
The videos, obtained by the NTSB, showed that the airplane was spinning as it descended and was on fire and trailing black smoke.
The airplane later plummeted to the ground and erupted into a fireball explosion, authorities said.
The NTSB said the airplane continued burning and that the cockpit, fuselage, empennage, inboard sections of both wings and the right engine sustained extensive fire damage
“The outboard sections of both wings and the tail section had separated from the airplane as it descended and were located within three miles of where the main wreckage came to rest,” according to the preliminary report from the NTSB.
The airplane’s left engine, like several other parts, separated from the plane as it was descending and has yet to be located.