THOMSON — Federal safety investigators said Thursday they expect to spend almost a week investigating a fatal jet crash that killed at least five people, including the co-founder of the Vein Guys, and injured two more.
Robert Sumwalt, a National Transportation Safety Board member, said a team of investigators will be at the site for at least the next five days while they collect evidence from nearly 100 yards of wreckage scattered across a wooded area near Thomson-McDuffie County Airport.
“When I say that the wreckage is breathtaking, I mean it,” Sumwalt told reporters gathered near the site.
McDuffie County Coroner Foster Wylie said the GBI Crime Lab positively identified victims Dr. Steven Roth, a managing partner of the Vein Guys and three others who worked at the Evans-based company: Tiffany Porter, Lisa Volpitto and Kim Davidson.
The medical examiner is still working to identify a fifth fatality. However, the family of Heidi McCorkle, an ultrasound technician, said they had been notified that she had died.
A preliminary investigation indicates the pilot was attempting to land the plane on Runway 10 just after 8 p.m. Wednesday when, for reasons unknown, the flight crew “elected to discontinue the landing,” Sumwalt said.
The plane went airborne off the end of the runway, missing the Milliken plant building, but hitting the top of a 60-foot-tall cast-concrete utility pole.
Sumwalt said the impact sheared the left wing from the plane, causing the aircraft to catch fire. It continued airborne for about a quarter mile through trees before crashing. Preliminary reports indicate the plane was a Hawker Beechcraft 390/Premier I.
Sumwalt said the wreckage was “severely fragmented” and almost completely consumed by fire.
Witnesses said they saw the plane pull up to avoid the Milliken plant building.
McDuffie County Fire Rescue Chief Bruce Tanner said the plane clipped electric transmission lines that run behind Milliken. Power to more than 5,000 electric customers was out for a brief time last night in McDuffie and Columbia counties.
Tanner said there were two crash survivors – one was the pilot who was found by rescue workers as they arrived, walking about 300 feet from the wreckage. The other survivor was found in the wreckage still in his front cockpit seat. Both were airlifted to the Georgia Regents Medical Center trauma unit.
Georgia Regents Medical Center spokeswoman Christen Carter confirmed that one crash survivor, Richard Trammell, was being treated and was in critical condition. Trammell was listed as the owner and chief pilot for Executive Shuttle in Greenwood, S.C.
Perry Barinowski, a professional pilot and owner of AirStat, an air shuttle service based in Thomson, said he has known Trammell for years.
“Rick and I have done business together helping each other out with flights for several years,” Barinowski said in an e-mail. “I think he is a conscientious pilot. I am praying for all the families involved. The aviation community is relatively small and closeknit and a tragedy like this affects us all.”
Those who knew and worked with some of the victims shared their feelings about their friends and colleagues.
Dr. Steven Roth was a big supporter of the University Health Care Foundation and helped sponsor the recent Cardio on the Canal event, “which was outreach to children and their families to teach them about heart disease and make them aware of healthy eating habits and the importance of exercise,” said Laurie Ott, the president of the foundation and vice president of human resources for University Hospital. “He was supportive of University Hospital’s heart mission and extending that out into the community.”
Dr. Stephen Davis, a plastic surgeon who worked with Roth at his office in Nashville, remembered McCorkle as a “very sweet and intelligent person.”
“She was a devoted professional and a great teacher for our younger techs,” Davis said.
Davis said Volpitto, a nurse anesthetist, was married to the Dr. George David Volpitto, an anesthesiologist who worked with the Vein Guys.
“She was just a great person and gave excellent care to our patients,” he said.
Davis said the Nashville office had been open for about five years and the Augusta crew, which varied from two to five people depending on need, traveled by plane each Wednesday to that office to see patients.
To determine what caused the crash, investigative teams from Atlanta and Washington, D.C., have been sent to the site to look at factors like aircraft performance, operation maintenance of the aircraft, survival and human factors, and weather implications, Sumwalt said.
Video footage was captured from an airport security camera, but investigators have not had the opportunity to review the video thoroughly. Investigators will also be looking into whether the plane had a black box, which is not a requirement for all aircraft.
“Our mission is to not only find out what happened, but why it happened,” Sumwalt said.
Another press conference is expected to be held Friday morning.
Near the site Thursday, about 15 McDuffie County eighth-graders joined hands in a circle and prayed. The youngsters are part of the McDuffie County Christian Learning Center, an elective that allows students to leave the classroom for 90 minutes each day for Bible classes.
Chairman Kati Wakeland said the fatal crash was the first thing she heard about when she picked up the kids Thursday. For about 10 minutes that afternoon the students took turns saying prayers for all the friends and families of those hurt or killed in the crash.
“They lifted the family members by name,” Wakeland said. “It ministered to their hearts and hopefully to the hearts of the families.”
At the Vein Guys office in Evans, a sign posted on the door said it was closed. A message on their Facebook wall stated: “Thank you so much for all of your sweet thoughts and prayers!! Please do continue to pray for us all, we need it so much right now!!! Blessings From The Vein Guys”.
Staff Writers Steve Crawford, Tom Corwin and Rob Pavey contributed to this report.