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Investigation begins into Thursday's fatal plane crash
Mechanic pulled one victim from wreckage after plane hit power lines
Emergency vehicles arrive at Lee Gilmer Memorial Airport along Palmour Drive in Gainesville, where a small plane crash left one person dead and another injured Thursday morning.

A Gainesville diesel mechanic turned rescuer Thursday as a single-engine plane crashed and burned in front of his workplace, killing one of two occupants and seriously injuring the other.

Names of the victims still hadn't been released as of Friday afternoon.

Flair Lee was working on a truck at Red Oak Sanitation when he heard overhead the plane’s engine “sputtering like it was losing power.”

“When I saw him (fly) over the top of the building, I just watched … as he clipped a (power) pole and knocked the lights off the top of it with his wing,” he said. “And the plane just flipped upside down and (went) straight into the ground.”

National Transportation Safety Board officials are now investigating the crash on Palmour Drive near Lee Gilmer Memorial Airport in Gainesville.

Authorities first learned about the incident about 11:30 a.m. after hearing reports that a small plane had struck some power lines and crashed onto Palmour, which encircles much of the airport.

Upon arrival, emergency responders found wreckage of a single-engine Aero Commander 114 occupied by two people. Authorities said they didn’t have the tail number for the plane, which crashed just short of the airport.

They found one person was dead and the other had been pulled from the craft by Lee, whose workplace is near the crash site. The person pulled from the plane was flown to Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta.

Lee said he first ran to the office and told workers to call 911, then ran to the plane with a co-worker. Lee was able to pull one of the occupants out and place him on grass nearby.

“By the time I got back (to the plane), the flames were so high, I couldn’t get the seat belt or anything off the other guy,” he said.

Flames were shooting 15-20 feet in the sky, he said.

“The guy I got out was responsive and everything,” Lee said. “He could talk, and all that he kept telling me was, ‘It burns. It hurts.’”

Lee said he and his co-worker “went through 15 fire extinguishers” in the shop at Red Oak to try to put out the flames.

He said he couldn’t tell whether the person he rescued was a passenger or the pilot in the four-seat craft. Authorities also said they couldn’t distinguish the two.

As for his role in the rescue, Lee shrugged off any hero status, saying, “I just feel like I did what I had to do.”
Keith Smith, spokesman for the Gainesville Fire Department, said the plane left the airport on runway 29.

“As they started to (fly off), they had engine trouble and tried to turn around and come back,” he said.

Smith confirmed Lee’s account about the plane clipping the power pole and hitting the ground.

Flames from the wreckage charred part of a fence that lines the airport side of Palmour Drive.

Because of the crash, authorities closed Palmour Drive between Aviation Boulevard and ZF Industries at 1261 Palmour Drive.

Georgia Power also responded to the scene, as the crash caused a power outage at the airport.