Georgia family of four killed in Williston plane crash

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By Carolyn Ten Broeck

A Georgia family of four was killed this weekend when their 1948 Cessna 170 crashed after take off at the Williston Municipal Airport.


Clay Connolly, Williston Deputy Chief of Police, said the police and fire departments were notified about the crash around 1:12 p.m. Easter Sunday.

It was only after the investigation began that law enforcement personnel began piecing the facts together and determined that the aircraft crashed some time after 3:10 p.m. Saturday.

The family, unidentified at press time, bought fuel at 2:38 p.m. at the Williston Airport, Connolly said. All four passengers deplaned, entered the FBO and used the restroom before re-boarding the plane.

The pilot, both a flight instructor and an air traffic controller, had a GoPro mounted on the dashboard, Connolly said. That camera has been taken by the National Traffic Safety Board (NTSB) for review and hope that it will give clues why the 63-year-old plane went down.

“The age of the aircraft shouldn’t be a bearing on the crash,” Connolly said. “It was a well-maintained airplane.”

The deputy police chief said the airport had hosted a barbecue fly-in Saturday afternoon and at least 20 aircraft either took off or landed after the Cessna went down.

“Every airplane has an emergency locater transmitter,” Connolly said, adding it acts as a beacon when a plane crashes. Some beacons can be heard for a two to three mile radius, he explained, adding it is this information that has investigating officials puzzled: why none of those 20 aircraft saw the wreckage and more importantly why none of them heard the beacon.

It wasn’t until Sunday afternoon when Airport Superintendent Wayne Middleton, who normally doesn’t work on Sunday, came in to fuel a jet.

It was only a short time later that jet’s pilot radioed back to the FBO that he heard a beacon beeping, Connolly said.

Middleton had gone into the restaurant outside the airport to get food, Connolly said, and patrons there were talking about a crash and looking at pictures taken by the restaurant’s owner earlier that morning, he added.

The superintendent jumped on a golf cart and went down Runway 2-3 where he spotted the wreckage with the family of four still inside about 150 feet off the runway, Connolly said. Middleton then called for the police and fire departments.

The NTSB took the aircraft to Jacksonville where the wreckage will be reassembled to perhaps give a clue to what happened. A preliminary report should be forthcoming in a week to 10 days, Connolly said, but it could take 12-18 months before the final report is complete.

The bodies of the four passengers – a man, woman and two young children – were taken by the state medical examiner to determine cause of death.

Connolly said some speculated the pilot was doing aerobatics, but he said he said he seriously doubted it.

“You don’t take a completely refueled aircraft, loaded with snorkels, fins and masks and your family and try to do stunts,” he said.