August 3, 2013

2 men, one teen die in Conway plane crash

Three men died shortly before 1 p.m. Saturday after a twin-engine plane they were flying in crashed in the Wood Creek neighborhood.

This story has been changed to correct the name of the 16-year-old victim

Three men died shortly before 1 p.m. Saturday after a twin-engine plane they were flying in crashed in the Wood Creek neighborhood.

James Major, 39, Conway, was the pilot of the plane and his passengers were Kenneth Piuma, 42, Myrtle Beach, and Donald Dale Becker, 16, Conway. The plane, which left Conway-Horry County Airport earlier in the day, was flying the direction of the runway of the airport. The crash occurred less than three miles from the airport.

James Major Sr. said his son was an experienced pilot who had flown helicopters and planes for years. Not only did James Major Jr. fly in and around Conway, but also in a home the family owns in the Bahamas.

“Something happened with that plane,” Major Sr. said.

The crash occurred on Dunn Short Cut Road at the intersection of Warm Springs Lane. Video, taken by nearby resident Jessica Scott, shows more than a dozen people swarmed around the plane after it crashed to try and assist the victims. Some brought fire extinguishers from their homes and others got as close to the cockpit as the heat from the flames and smoke would allow them, Scott said.

“People were trying to get them out,” she said. “I don’t think they died from the crash. They were still moving. ... It killed me to see that man shaking.”

Scott said she saw the plane flying “abnormally low” and saw it strike and spin on a utility pole before hitting the ground. Sounds of the fire sizzling and sparks from what Scott believed was a power line bounced on the ground near the crash as rescuers attempted to save the victims.

“The whole side of that plane burned up,” she said. “It bothers me the most that we couldn’t get them out.”

Family members and friends rushed to the scene of the crash Saturday, which was blocked off by police tape. Wives, parents and siblings wept as they consoled each other after the sudden loss.

Horry Electric workers were on scene trying to restore power to the nearby homes. It was unknown late Saturday how many homes were impacted, though power was restored to some homes by Saturday afternoon. A call to Penelope Hinson, spokesperson for Horry Electric, was not returned early Saturday evening.

Lt. Selena Small of the Conway Police Department said police were securing the scene and waiting for the National Transportation Safety Board to arrive from Washington, D.C., and officials with the Federal Aviation Administration to arrive from Columbia. The FAA had made it to the scene Saturday night. The Conway Fire Department, the Horry County Coroner’s Office and Horry County airport officials are assisting in the investigation. The American Red Cross was on scene providing water and was in preliminary stages of setting up temporary shelter at a nearby church late Saturday.

Brad Reinhart, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Wilmington, said the weather at 12:55 p.m. Saturday showed there was a south wind at 5 mph and scattered clouds at about 4,500 to 5,000 feet.

FAA regulations require the FAA be notified of utility pole height that extends outward and upward of 100 to 1 for distances of about three miles to the landing strip of Horry County’s size, according the FAA’s website. Horry County’s main runway measures more than 4,400 feet, according to its website. It is unclear how tall the utility pole was or if it was required to have a light on top of it, as is common with tall structures around airports.

Kirk Lovell, marketing director for Horry County Airports, referred all questions about the details of the crash to the FAA.

Scott, the witness, sat on her vehicle and often stared at the wreckage of the plane for hours after the crash.

“I’ve never seen anybody die,” she said.

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