CHARLESTON, West Virginia (AP) — A flight instructor was killed and a man remains in critical condition the day after a small plane plunged from the sky while taking off at a West Virginia airport, flipped over and caught fire.
Yeager Airport spokesman Mike Plante said the injured person, who has not been identified, underwent surgery after the incident on Saturday and remains in the intensive care unit.
The National Transportation Safety Board on Sunday began its investigation into what caused the crash that killed the flight instructor and sent the airport into mourning.
"There's a natural bond between pilots and aviation people," he said. "It's a small and specialized community who shared that kinship of flight. When we lose someone, it's a reminder of an old saying in aviation: There are wonderful, amazing machines. But they are unforgiving of imprecision, neglect or mechanical failure."
The Cessna 172 Sky Hawk four-seat plane took off just after noon Saturday, Plante said. It was airborne when it careened back down and smashed beside the runway nose first. It then toppled over onto its back and caught fire.
Dozens of firefighters, medics and police responded, extinguished the fire and extracted the two passengers around 40 minutes later, Plante said. Both were severely injured and taken to the hospital, where the woman later died.
She has not been formally identified. Local media reported the victim as Brenda Gilland Jackson, a flight instructor. Joe Beam, manager of Skylane Aviation which owned the plane, confirmed Jackson had perished.
"She just loved to fly," Beam said.
She started flying as a teenager more than four decades ago, according to story the Charleston Gazette-Mail wrote when she received her instructor's certificate in 2009. But life took a different turn, she got married and had a family and stayed on the ground for 25 years. Her husband died and, in 2009, she started taking lessons again. She fell in love with her flight instructor and married him, the newspaper reported.
She told the newspaper that getting her license was a "dream come true" and said she loved to fly because it made her feel free.
Beam, whose Charleston-based company headquartered at the airport, offers services like aerial photography, site surveys and flight instruction. He said he met her when she returned to aviation. She worked for herself and rented planes from him to take up her students.
It remains unclear what caused the plane to fall from the sky.
Dan Boggs, an air safety investigator at National Transportation Safety Board, said at a news conference Sunday that a preliminary report will be published within a few weeks. The final investigative report will take several months to complete.
Representatives from the Cesna, the airplane manufacturer and Continental, the engine manufacturer, were also on site aiding with the investigation, Plante said.
Plante said it was the airport's first fatal crash involving a fixed-wing aircraft in more than 30 years.