Published Saturday, March 15, 2008
Friday, March 14, 2008

Navy plane crashes; two killed

By Lisa Rogers, Times Staff Writer

STEELE - Two pilots are dead after a two-seat training plane crashed Friday in heavy fog into the side of Chandler Mountain.
The T-34C Turbo Mentor, based at Whiting Field in Milton, Fla., just outside Fort Walton Beach, crashed just before 2 p.m. while the pilots were conducting routine flight training, said Lori Aprilliano, a spokeswoman for the Naval Air Station at Whiting Field.
Jonathan Oakes and some others were stacking hay in a barn on Beason Cove Road when they heard the sound of the plane, then heard what sounded like four or five trees falling.
He went outside and another man working at the farm had called 911.
"It took about 10 minutes to spot it," Oakes said. "We rode up the road and saw flames. It looked like the wing sideswiped the mountain."
There was a report earlier in the day of a plane with orange on it flying low near the interstate, Oakes said.
Several people who live on Beason Cove Road, which is somewhat parallel to Interstate 59 and follows the base of Chandler Mountain, heard the sound of the crash.
Low-hanging fog covered the mountainside and kept them from being able to immediately see the flaming plane.
Just down the road, Allison Limbaugh was at home when she heard a loud boom. She just thought it was the rock quarry several miles away that she can sometimes hear.
Moments later, a neighbor called and told her a plane had crashed. By then, law enforcement officers and rescue workers were driving along Beason Cove Road, looking for signs of the crash, she said.
After several minutes, the heavy fog began to lift.
"I was standing at my kitchen sink, and I just happened to look up and saw flames," she said.
The flames were less than 100 feet from the top of Chandler Mountain, right behind her house.
She called 911 to give rescue and law enforcement officials an exact location.
The plane crashed near the rocky point where hang gliders sometimes take off, longtime resident Harold England said.
England said he has lived in that area 42 years and he has seen crashes in the area before.
"That mountain just gets socked in with fog, and they fly right into it," he said.
St. Clair County Sheriff Terry Surles said medical and sheriff's department personnel reached the crashed plane and confirmed two people were dead. It was determined the aircraft was a military training plane.
He said military officials were notified and sheriff's department officials were planning to stay with the plane until the investigating officers reached the area.
The plane was assigned to the Training Squadron 6, based at Whiting Field, according to the U.S. Navy spokeswoman.
According to information on the Web, the Training Squadron 6 trains pilots for the Navy, Marines and Coast Guard.
The T-34C Turbomentor is an unpressurized two-seat, tandem cockpit low-wing turboprop trainer.
The cause of the crash is under investigation and the aviators' names are being withheld pending notification of their families.