Investigation into deadly plane crash continues
by James Phillips
Jan 04, 2013 | 8039 views | 0 0 comments | 16 16 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Late Thursday afternoon, officials with the National Transportation Safety Board, Federal Aviation Administration and the Walker County Sheriff's Office removed the wreckage of the PA-30 Twin Comanche aircraft that crashed in a wooded area off Wells Loop Road on New Year's night, killing three people on board. Photo by: Elane Jones
Late Thursday afternoon, officials with the National Transportation Safety Board, Federal Aviation Administration and the Walker County Sheriff's Office removed the wreckage of the PA-30 Twin Comanche aircraft that crashed in a wooded area off Wells Loop Road on New Year's night, killing three people on board. Photo by: Elane Jones
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The investigation into a plane crash that killed three area teenagers continued Thursday with federal officials spending much of the day recovering the aircraft and debris at the Jasper crash site.

Late Thursday afternoon the wreckage was removed from the crash site in a swampy, wooded area about a mile south of the Walker County Airport-Bevill Field to a secure location, Walker County Sheriff John Mark Tirey said.

“Officials with the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board, along with investigators from my office, have worked throughout the day on this incident,” Tirey said.

Tirey said FAA and NTSB officials will now sort through the aircraft and debris in an effort to determine the cause of the crash.

The NTSB announced through its website that a preliminary report should be available 10 business days after the accident. A factual narrative will be released at a later time, the NTSB said.

Jordan Ryan Smith, 17, of Jasper is believed to have been the pilot of the plane. The Associated Press reported Thursday that he had received a student pilot certificate in February 2012. The AP also reported the FAA pointed to regulations that say “a student pilot may not act as pilot in command of an aircraft that is carrying a passenger.”

FAA regulations also require a pilot to have a multi-engine rating to fly a twin-engine plane like the Piper PA 30 that crashed just off Wells Loop in Jasper shortly after 10:30 p.m. Tuesday.

Smith’s mother, Sherrie Smith, told the AP Wednesday he was one test away from having his pilot’s license. She said she talked to him by cell phone about 10 p.m. Tuesday and he said he would be in by his 11:30 p.m. curfew. She said she knew he was out with friends, but did not know they had gone to the airport.

None of the victims owned the plane.

According to FAA records, the plane had its registration canceled in 2010.

The FAA released information Thursday afternoon that the plane’s last owner was HiFlight Aviation, LLC, of Jasper. Sale documents and a registration application with the FAA were dated May 2010.

The FAA said the application was returned to HiFlight for corrections on June 28, 2010, and the registration was placed in pending status.

After receiving no response from HiFlight Aviation, the FAA canceled the registration and put a five-year hold on the aircraft’s N-number, which is a code used by the FAA to license an airplane.

FAA guidelines state that any operating aircraft must be registered.

Attempts to contact HiFlight Aviation owner Ray Whitworth for comment Thursday were unsuccessful. A number associated with the company had been temporarily disconnected.

The three teenagers who died in the crash all had ties to Meek High School. Smith was a junior at the Winston County school, while 17-year-old Jordan Seth Montgomery, of Arley, was a senior. Brandon Tyler Ary, 19, of Arley, was a 2011 Meek graduate.

Meek Principal Marla Murrah said counselors were available Thursday for students who needed to speak to someone.

“Our students have done about as well as you could expect today,” she said.

Murrah said she knew all three of the crash victims.

“All three of them were good young men,” she said. “They always had positive attitudes and were hardworking students. Our thoughts and prayers go out to their families.”

The school will have a balloon release to honor Smith, Montgomery and Ary. Murrah said the date for the event has not been set.

“It will probably be some time next week,” she said. “The students all liked the idea of a balloon release, but we don’t want to rush to allow the families to have some time on their own.”

Funeral arrangements for two of the three teens have been finalized.

Visitation for Montgomery and Ary will be at 6 p.m. Saturday at Collins-Burke Funeral Home in Jasper.

Funeral services for Montgomery will be held on Sunday at 1 p.m. in the chapel at Collins-Burke Funeral Home with Josh Hutto officiating. Burial will be in the Kennedy Cemetery.

Funeral services for Ary will be Sunday at 2:30 p.m. in the chapel of Collins-Burke Funeral Home. Burial will be in the Meek Baptist Church Cemetery in Arley.

Funeral arrangements for Smith will be announced later by Collins-Burke.

The Daily Mountain Eagle’s Elane Jones and The Associated Press contributed to this report.