Stephen Bruce Radke, 49, of Fripp Island, S.C., was killed when his single-engine Cessna 210/G crashed in a wooded area just off Wire Road before 10 a.m. during heavy rain.
Neighbors on Snipes Pond Road said they heard the plane's engines sputter as it passed over their homes. Then they saw fire after it hit the trees.
Federal Aviation Administration officials confirmed there were no other passengers on the four-seat plane.
Aiken County Coroner Tim Carlton said Radke was pronounced dead at the scene of the crash. An autopsy is expected to take place today or Saturday at Newberry Pathology Associates.
Keith Holloway, NTSB public affairs officer, said investigators would begin a thorough search of the wreckage this morning as the team works on its preliminary report. The Aiken County Sheriff's Office Patrol and Forensic Unit spent more than 10 hours at the crash scene Thursday and plans to resume its investigation today.
"Anytime you have an accident that's not contained, it can add another layer of difficulty to the investigation, but it's nothing they haven't seen before," said Holloway.
Friends of the experienced pilot were shocked he could lose control of the plane, which he flew as often as some people drive cars.
Carlton said Radke had four years of experience as a pilot and that he was flying to Aiken to have instrumentation work done.
Neighbor and friend Sam McGowan said Radke left Beaufort Airport and was headed to Aiken Municipal Airport to meet a fishing buddy from Augusta. From there, the men and family, including Radke's wife, Kim, were going to Florida for some time on the coast.
"He'd go out of his way to help you in any way he could," said McGowan. "The accident must have been an act of nature because he was an extremely accomplished pilot."
Carlton said Radke left Beaufort at 9:15 a.m. on a 20-minute flight to Aiken. Radke was scheduled to arrive at 9:40 a.m. About 9:32 a.m., his plane was unable to be tracked by Live Flight Tracking, an aircraft-tracking Web site.
At 9:36 a.m., workers for a local electrical company said they heard a loud explosion, discovered the wreckage and called 911, Carlton said, adding that at the time of the crash, the weather was foggy, windy and it was raining severely, with visibility of less than 500 feet.
Despite the stormy weather, Radke issued no distress call, nor did he notify Aiken Municipal Airport of an emergency landing, according to Troy Elwell, Aiken County Sheriff's Office spokesman.
Reach Julia Sellers at (803) 648-1395, ext. 111,
AIKEN COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE/SPECIAL
Stephen Radke was killed Thursday morning when his Cessna 210/G crashed in a wooded area north of the Aiken airport.