OWLS HEAD — A Cessna 172 single engine plane crashed in the woods at Knox County Regional Airport early Friday evening, killing three people onboard, according to Knox County Chief Deputy Tim Carroll.
Carroll said Saturday afternoon that release of the names of the victims likely would take a week, as the Medical Examiner's Office is conducting DNA tests to confirm identities.
"It has been a day-long event trying to properly identify the victims of the crash," said Carroll in an email around 5:15 p.m. Saturday. "Working with family and friends of the deceased of possible people involved is ongoing at this time. Working with the State of Maine Medical Examiners Office and Fire Marshal's Office, positive identification will not be released until DNA results are confirmed, which won't be until later this week."
While taking off from Runway 13/31 around 4:50 p.m. Nov. 16, approximately 1,000 yards into take-off the plane, headed north, struck a service truck crossing the runway, causing the plane to crash. Carroll identified the driver of the 1994 GMC Sonoma pickup truck as 62-year-old Stephen Turner of Camden.
"The aircraft got a little air for a short time before crashing into the woods," said Carroll. Firefighters and emergency responders found the aircraft on fire at the end of the runway, at the edge of the woods and extinguished the blaze.
Carroll said the three passengers were found deceased inside the fuselage. The identities of the passengers and the aircraft remain under investigation, but Carroll said the plane was not a local one. He said the plane did not belong to Cape Air or Penobscot Air.
Airport sources said the plane may have lost its stabilizer after striking the truck, and that the plane continued to climb before losing control, attempting to turn, and then crashing.
Carroll said Turner's being on the runway was not unusual.
"Turner is a licensed pilot that works out of the airport and was crossing the runway at that time. Turner had just assisted in putting a plane away in a hanger across from the terminal. This was routine practice that occurs daily," said Carroll in the email.
"It is normal for trucks like that to be crossing, and given the frequency of vehicle traffic on the runway, those on the runway and those flying are given a radio frequency to communicate and notify when they are moving around," said Carroll Friday night. Whether Turner failed to notify of his movement across the runway Friday night, or the pilot failed to heed the call or if he or she heard it, remains a large part of the investigation into the cause of the accident, according to Carroll.
"Who didn't know about who, that part is still in the process of being figured out," said Carroll. Turner is not a county employee, and was not driving county-owned equipment.
Carroll said Friday night the National Transportation Safety Board, District Attorney and Medical Examiner's office had all been notified. He said the Fire Marshal's Office was on scene and a representative from the Federal Aviation Administration was en route.
Emergency responders set up a command post on Dublin Road at the east end of the airport. Dublin Road was closed to traffic much of the night. As of 6:30 p.m., Rockland firefighters had cleared the scene, and Knox County Sheriff deputies and airport personnel were combing the runway for evidence. Also assisting at the scene were Rockland and South Thomaston EMS units, and Owls Head and South Thomaston fire departments.
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