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Federal inquiry continues in fatal plane crash

Photo by Johnny Jackson 
Local law enforcement personnel were seen on the campus of the Fortson 4-H Center in Hampton, near where a small plane crashed Tuesday. Media were not allowed beyond the perimeter of the campus, near the crash, early Tuesday afternoon.

Photo by Johnny Jackson Local law enforcement personnel were seen on the campus of the Fortson 4-H Center in Hampton, near where a small plane crashed Tuesday. Media were not allowed beyond the perimeter of the campus, near the crash, early Tuesday afternoon.

By Johnny Jackson

jjackson@henryherald.com

Authorities trudged through muddy terrain Wednesday, continuing their investigation of Tuesday's fatal plane crash, which claimed the lives of two metro-Atlanta men.

The crash victims were identified as 48-year-old Oriel Roberts, of Hampton, and 37-year-old Bryan Hedrick, of Roswell.

"It's still very early in the investigation," said NTSB AeroSafety Investigator Luke Schiada, who is looking into what may have caused the 1967 Dehavilland-6-100, Twin Otter, to crash.

The aircraft fell in a woody wetland area at the Henry-Clayton county border, near runways of the local airport at Tara Field, and just west of the Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton.

Schiada said he, and others involved in the investigation, worked the rain-soaked landscape all day Wednesday, using heavy equipment to remove the shattered plane's pieces, and transport them to a storage facility in the Griffin area.

The chief investigator said the plane "sustained substantial damage, and it came to stop in a near-vertical position... both engines were buried into the ground."

Schiada said investigators will document the site of the incident, to send back to a five-member panel of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) in Washington, D.C., which "will ultimately determine a probable cause."

"We're in the fact-finding phase of the investigation," said the NTSB AeroSafety Investigator. "We break down every investigation into three primary areas --the pilot, the aircraft, and the environment."

Schiada said he expects the investigation will be a six- to eight-month long process. The probe, he explained, will encompass studying the pilot's experience and medical history, physically examining the plane's various components, and sub-components, reviewing the plane's maintenance history, gathering witness statements, collecting weather information, and combing through radar information, provided by air traffic control.

The plane crash appeared not to cause any air traffic interruptions Tuesday, according to Kathleen Bergen, communications manager for the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) Southern Region.

FAA officials and local law enforcement were at the scene, yards away from the 77-acre campus of the Fortson 4-H Center, soon after it was reported down around 11:42 a.m., Tuesday.

Local authorities reported no other injuries associated with the crash that took the lives of the plane's two occupants, Bryan Hedrick and Oriel Roberts.

"He'll be missed," said Kevin McCole, of Roberts. "He was well-respected in the aviation field, and in the twin otter field."

McCole, a New Hampshire resident, was the previous owner of the crashed plane, and an acquaintance of Roberts. He said he first met Roberts at the Hampton-based National AeroTech Aviation, Inc., back in 2010. He said Roberts was a chief inspector there.

"I had done some work with their company... we cooperated on the import of a plane from Africa," said McCole, a commercially rated pilot for some 20 years.

McCole said he bought the 1967 Dehavilland-6-100, from the Norwegian Air Force, where it was "used for pilot training, skydiving and VIP transports."

The veteran pilot said he sold the twin-engine to Desert Sand Aircraft Leasing Co., Inc., in Carson City, Nevada. "This one [airplane] specifically was used for skydiving," said McCole.