A plane crash in a heavily wooded area of north Bryan County killed three people Monday morning.
The single-engine Beech Bonanza en route from the Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport to Cobb County disappeared from radar about 9:30 a.m., prompting the FAA to contact Bryan County Emergency Services regarding the possibility of a downed aircraft. But finding the plane took some time.
“Its last known altitude was 300 feet,” said Freddie Howell, director of Bryan County Emergency Services. “They gave us coordinates close to here. We proceeded to those coordinates and we rode past that area several times. The Coast Guard was dispatched, two helicopters, the Savannah Mosquito Control helicopter was also sent to the area. They searched for some time. At 11:18 the Mosquito Control crew notified us that they had identified a downed aircraft off of Croft Road.”
The helicopter crew was able to land in an adjacent field and make its way to the crash site, where they found no survivors.
Passengers in the airplane were William Byron Cocke, 42, and his wife Catherine Cocke, 39, of Savannah. The pilot, who was also the owner of the airplane, has been identified as Randy Hunter of Tyrone, Ga.
“We were hoping that they had just lost communications and that they had landed somewhere. It is not what we wanted and our thoughts and our prayers go out to the family members of the pilot and the two passengers who were on board,” Howell said.
The search for the downed aircraft was extensive.
“We probably had 40 to 50 people on the ground, in the air and even in boats. We had two boats along the Ogeechee River. Effingham County had a boat, we had a boat, we were doing everything possible to find the airplane. We had the Coast Guard and several people riding the roads just hunting. Actually … several of us rode past the area. It is behind a field, it is wooded terrain, it goes downhill where they are located. You could not have seen it from the road,” Howell added.
The nature of the terrain surrounding the crash site has made the recovery operation difficult.
“We have Georgia Forestry down there cutting a path to the aircraft. The aircraft is in a very heavily wooded, swampy, marsh area. There is going to be a lot of work before this operation is over. We have FAA on the way. They will do a thorough investigation of the plane and site to try to determine what actually happened,” Howell said. “Right now we have 4-wheelers, ATVs and mules down there getting our people in. We have to clear a path to help get the FAA people in there to determine what happened.”
Anne Horn, who lives a few miles from the crash site, said she heard the airplane fly over her house.
“I heard it, it was real low. But I am so used to hearing Army stuff go over I didn’t go outside to check on it. My neighbor saw it and said it was real loud,” she said.
Access to Croft Road and the crash site is being blocked by the Bryan County Sheriff’s Department and the GSP Howell said.
The airplane’s tail identification number indicates the craft is a 1994 Beech A36 capable of 300 mph owned by Randy D. Hunter of Tyrone, Ga. No prior incidents or accidents had been reported for the aircraft.