The cause of the crash is under investigation by officials with the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board.
The FAA and NTSB were in the area investigating the crash throughout the day Wednesday. The FFA has confirmed they were notified of the crash at 4:40 a.m. Wednesday. The group has also confirmed the three persons on board the aircraft — one pilot and two passengers — were all fatally injured, and the aircraft – a Piper PA 30/39 Twin Comanche — was destroyed. The plane crashed in a wooded area about one mile south of the Walker County Airport-Bevill Field.
Walker County Coroner J.C. Poe released the names of the crash victims Wednesday afternoon. The three young men were identified as Jordan Ryan Smith, 17, of Jasper, Brandon Tyler Ary, 19, of Arley, and Jordan Seth Montgomery, 17, of Arley.
Edwin Banks, the airport’s manager, reported to the Associated Press that one of the teens was a student pilot. Banks said the teen had flown a single-engine airplane in the past, but had not flown a plane the size of the Piper PA 30.
Walker County Sheriff John Mark Tirey said his office received several calls Tuesday night regarding a possible airplane crash.
“All the callers claimed to have heard or seen the plane go down just north of Jasper off Alabama Highway 5,” Tirey said.
Tirey said the calls initially came into his office around 10:30 p.m. He added that a deputy responding to the crash took a report around 11:30 p.m. concerning the possible theft of an airplane from the Walker County Airport.
The missing plane, according to Tirey, was a twin engine Comanche Piper, which was later discovered in a marshy, wooded area off Wells Loop Road in Jasper. Tirey said investigators with his office, as well as the FFA and NTSB, were conducting interviews Wednesday afternoon to determine whether or not the pilot of the plane had permission to fly it.
Emergency personnel discovered the crash site around 2:30 a.m. Wednesday.
Tirey said one of the witnesses who called Walker County 911 concerning the crash reported hearing the plane’s engine rev-up and then a few minutes later he heard a loud explosion.
“Another witness said he saw a plane fly low over his house just before hearing an explosion,” Tirey said. “Deputies were able to use the information they garnered from witnesses to narrow the search area.”
Firefighters from several local volunteer fire departments, including Saragossa, Mt. Zion, Thach, and Nauvoo, as well as representatives from the Walker County Sheriff’s Office, Walker County Emergency Management Agency, Jasper Police Department and the Walker County Airport searched the wooded areas between the Walker County Airport and Brakefield Dairy Road in Jasper for several hours before locating the crash site.
“This is a terrible tragedy to have happen in our county, and our thoughts and prayers are with the families of all the victims," Tirey said.