Federal officials are just now beginning to investigate the wreckage of a plane that left Cleveland on Friday and was found near Hayesville, N.C., on Sunday.
Investigators are taking their time to approach the wreckage because the terrain is "very rough, mountainous and tree-covered," said Clay County Sheriff Joe Shook. "It’s in the Nantahala National Forest, and trees completely surround town."
Pilot Bill Allison, 66, of Helen, died in the 1978 Cessna 182 RB that crashed during the weekend. He left Mountain Airpark in Cleveland around 10 a.m. and was bound for Andrews-Murphy Airport in North Carolina. His wife, Wanda, reported him missing when he didn’t arrive. Allison’s pilot friends and members of the Georgia and North Carolina Civil Air Patrol searched for him near the Georgia-North Carolina border.
A helicopter pilot located the wreckage on a mountain peak, and North Carolina Civil Air Patrol and Clayton County Emergency Services located the site and identified his body.
Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board officials arrived Monday and put together a team to approach the site and determine why the plane went down. The team will take photographs at the site and inspect mechanical components of the plane, said FAA spokesperson Kathleen Bergen.
"They’ll talk with the people who were with the pilot at the airport before he departed so they can paint the whole picture of what happened," she said. "Looking at mechanical components, the pilot’s record and the log book, the inspectors are well-trained in accident investigation and can narrow down what they’re looking at fairly quickly."
A helicopter will be brought in to remove the wreckage to a secure location where investigation will continue, said NTSB spokesman Peter Knudson.
"There’s some indication there was a post-crash fire," he said. "But there’s no information about air traffic control or a distress call. They’ll review the appropriate tapes, get information about the weather and the radar."
Allison, who traveled the 37 miles several times a week between the two airports he operated, was president of Cleveland’s Mountain Airpark, a private community that features a small runway for residents.
"Everyone knew him around here," said neighbor Henry Van Ginkle. "He was a good pilot, had a good business and his death is a blow to this airport."