Pilot tried to avoid homes before deadly plane crash


Credit: WGHP

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BURLINGTON, N.C. — One person was killed Wednesday morning when a small plane went down near a residential area after taking off from the Burlington airport, officials said.

The single-engine Pilatus PC-12 aircraft crashed around 6 a.m. near the North Park Community Center at the intersection of Sharpe Road and Melrose Drive.

The pilot, 57-year-old David Gamble of Greensboro — a LabCorp employee — died, Burlington police spokesperson Chris Verdeck said.

Gamble is a graduate of Clemson University and has three sons.

No one else was on board the aircraft, which was completely destroyed, according to FAA spokeswoman Kathleen Bergen.

(Listen to the 911 calls.)

The plane was operated by LabCorp and registered as property of Regions Equipment Finance Corp, based in Birmingham, Ala., officials said.

The aircraft was bound for Morristown Municipal Airport in New Jersey. Police said it was carrying “interoffice mail.”

Bergen initially said the plane “crashed off the end of the runway” of the Burlington-Alamance Regional Airport, but the crash site is about five miles away from the airport’s runway.

Police say most of the debris is in a softball field near the North Park Community neighborhood.

“It appears that the pilot attempted to avoid residential areas,” police said in a news release.  “This was evident from the apparent path of the plane and the site where most of the debris from the plane can be found.”

Dylan James lives across the street from where the plane crashed.  He says he woke up to the sound of a loud boom.

“We called 9-1-1 and immediately went over there. We just saw a lot of wreckage, the field was still on fire. Parts scattered everywhere, papers scattered everywhere,” James said.  “I’m sending prayers out for the pilot’s family and thanking God that my family and friends and neighbors are safe.”

Ann Byrd, 70, also lives across the street.  She lost a leg to diabetes years ago and says she would have been trapped if the plane had hit her house.

“I would like his family to know that in my book, [David Gamble] died a hero. Because he saved so many people,” Byrd said.  “It’s just sad. So sad.”

Byrd wiped tears from her eyes thinking about the pilot she did not know but who she believes saved her life.

“He must have been very compassionate, because I figure he thought — I’m going to die. And I don’t want to harm anybody else,” Byrd said. 

Marcus Evans brought his two kids to the outskirts of the crash site to tell them about the hero pilot and show them rescue workers pulling together.

“I wonder what I would do in that situation, I couldn’t imagine, couldn’t imagine… Obviously the cops are out here and the rescue and all of them working together,” Evans said.  “It’s times like these we see our heroes come together and work.”

“It’s just amazing to me the pilot was able to get it down there and avoid all these people. That’s a hero. Whoever he was — he’s a hero,” Evans continued.

Sharpe Road was closed to traffic between Rauhut and Apple streets throughout the day and evening.

“Part of the concern from the debris is jet fuel, which could be as much as 400 gallons,” police said.

Dan Danielly, executive director of the Burlington airport, says LabCorp operates several small aircraft from the airport on a “round-the-clock schedule.”

NTSB arrived on scene from Va. at about 4:30 p.m.  They say because of pending storms, they hope to have wreckage cleared up by Thursday evening.  But they will likely be in Burlington investigating until Friday. 

According to protocol, the NTSB will release preliminary information within 6 months about a cause, said Jay Neylon, Air Safety Investigator with NTSB. 

An official cause and report may take up to a year.  The FAA is assisting.

On Wednesday, LabCorp issued a statement about the crash:

“We have been informed that early this morning one of our pilots was killed when his plane crashed near the intersection of Sharpe Road and Melrose Drive, a few miles from the Burlington-Alamance Regional Airport.  He was the only person onboard the single-engine turboprop cargo aircraft.  There are no reports of other injuries at this time.

This is a tragedy for the whole LabCorp family.  Our hearts are heavy today, and we are grieving along with the family and friends of this valued employee.  We are reaching out to the family to offer our support, and will continue to do so.

We are cooperating with authorities to fully understand what occurred.  We will keep the public and media informed as we learn more details.”

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