OWLS HEAD, Maine — Federal, state and local investigators were back Saturday morning at the scene of the plane crash that claimed the lives of three people whose identities are still not known.
Officials now believe they know who the victims are but are waiting to contact family members, Knox County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Tim Carroll said Saturday morning. A formal identification would come from the Maine Medical Examiner’s Office.
The victims are adults, one from Maine and two from outside the state, Carroll said.
The medical examiner was at the scene Saturday morning to remove the bodies from the wreckage.
The tail number was too charred and damaged to read, so officials did not know Friday evening where the plane was from or who the pilot might be. Officials had checked with airports to see if there were any reports of planes that had not arrived as expected.
The Maine Forest Service arrived at 9:30 a.m. with a helicopter and working with the Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board on removing the wreckage of the Cessna 172 single-engine plane, Northgraves said. An FAA investigator arrived Friday night while the NTSB team is expected to arrive from Florida late Saturday afternoon.
The plane crashed at about 4:44 p.m. Friday when it was taking off and struck a pickup truck, driven by a pilot, that was driving across the airport. The plane then rose to as high as 100 feet off the ground, banked to the left and crashed, with the wreckage largely ending up about 200 yards into the woods near the Dublin Road adjacent to the runway. The aircraft was consumed by flames.
The skies were clear but it was dark at the time of the crash.
The truck was authorized to be on the runway, but there has been no determination yet of what communications had been made by the truck operator and the plane’s pilot. The truck remains at the scene of the collision with a Knox County Sheriff’s Office cruiser next to it and has been impounded as part of the investigation.
The driver of the truck was not injured.
Knox County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Tim Carroll said that the truck had been on the runway after parking another plane in a hangar on the other end of the airport.
The airport has been reopened to all air traffic, Northgraves said Saturday morning.
The Knox County Regional Airport operates under visual flight rules. Airplane pilots are not required to have radios in their aircraft but are required to take view of their environment before taking off or landing, Northgraves said. There is no control tower.
The airport has a frequency that is available for aircraft or vehicles at the airport to use. The frequency is published so that planes coming in from other locations know how to be in contact.
The Cessna that crashed was equipped with a radio, the airport manager said. Other people had heard the pilot communicating earlier in the evening.
Northgraves said the truck also had a radio but it is not known what, if any, communication there was between the two.
Small, noncommercial planes are not required to have flight recorders. The airport has video cameras on the property but none captured the crash, Northgraves said.
The Knox County Regional Airport had 55,125 estimated takeoffs and landings during the past year, according to the manager. Of those, 27,000 takeoffs and landings were from itinerant aircraft, those from outside the area.
The Knox County Regional Airport and the surrounding area have been the site of a number of plane crashes over the years, including the worst commercial aviation disaster in Maine history.
Downeast Airlines Flight 46, a DeHavilland Twin Otter propjet bound for Owls Head from Boston, crashed into a ledge in a heavily wooded area 1.2 miles short of the runway in thick fog on the night of May 30, 1979. Seventeen of the 18 people aboard were killed.
Although the National Transportation Safety Board investigation attributed that crash to pilot error, the management policies of Downeast Airlines also were cited as contributing factors. NTSB investigators stated in a report issued a year after the crash that testimony produced allegations that Downeast Airlines owner and president Robert Stenger promoted a culture that pressured pilots to land in Owls Head rather than divert flights to Augusta in poor weather conditions.
A pilot from Topsfield, Mass., was killed on June 23, 2008, when her single-engine, four-seat Piper Cherokee crashed in shallow coastal waters as she was preparing to practice approaches and landings at the airport.
Janet Strong, 73, died when she crashed near Crockett Beach Road, which is less than a mile from the airport.
Student pilot Peter Shorey of Newcastle was practicing soft-field takeoff maneuvers on July 21, 1998, in the Knox County Flying School’s 1968 Piper Cherokee when “it pancaked, crabbed to the left and crashed,” his flight instructor Edward Sleeper said at the time. Shorey needed 26 stitches to close the gash to his head suffered when the plane slammed into a low-lying bog area a few yards from the Knox County Airport runway. The plane was only about 10 feet off the runway when it came down.