Plane tried to turn back before crash into home

LAWRENCEVILLE, Ga. --- A small plane was in a "steep turn" when it crashed into a suburban Atlanta house, killing the pilot and a woman inside the home, an investigator said.


"It looks like he was turning, trying to get back toward the airport," National Transportation Safety Board investigator Butch Wilson said Saturday. The Friday afternoon crash killed the pilot, 58-year-old James Wardlaw of Atlanta, and 62-year-old Judith Kirchner, who was in her Lawrenceville home.

Mr. Wilson estimated that Mr. Wardlaw's Cessna 310 came in about 200 knots -- roughly 230 mph -- when it hit the garage doors, took out the cars and went through an adjacent wall. He said Friday's overcast skies might have affected the flight.

"He was in a steep turn when he crashed," Mr. Wilson said.

He said more work remains before there's a final determination on what caused the crash.

"I pretty much have a good idea of what might have happened," he said. "(But) the cause will come much later."

The investigation at the crash site could wrap up in the next two days, Mr. Wilson said.

The four-seat plane crashed into the home just before 1:30 p.m. Friday. The plane came in from the north, clipping a tree in the yard next door to Ms. Kirchner's house and missing the neighbor's home by about 15 feet, Gwinnett Fire spokesman Capt. Thomas Rutledge said.

Ms. Kirchner's husband escaped the resulting blaze and was mostly uninjured, Capt. Rutledge said. "He was very lucky," Capt. Rutledge said of Ms. Kirchner's husband, who was in an upstairs room in the back of the house. "He said he felt a vibration, then the wall move. From that instant, there was the explosion."

The pilot sent no distress signals, according to the control towers at the Gwinnett and Atlanta airports. Mr. Wilson said Mr. Wardlaw had been headed to Tennessee to see his six daughters.