THOMSON, Ga. — A small private jet carrying a surgeon and members of his clinic staff aborted its landing at a Georgia airport before it hit a 60-foot utility pole and crashed in a flaming wreck, killing five people onboard and injuring two, federal authorities said Thursday.
National Transportation Safety Board member Robert Sumwalt said fuel leaking from the plane ignited in flames Wednesday night after it hit the concrete pole with enough force to sheer off the left wing. He said investigators found pieces of the plane strewn over 100 yards.
“The wreckage was severely fragmented, and it is almost completely destroyed by fire,” Sumwalt said at a news conference Thursday afternoon. “...You walk up and you say to yourself, ‘Where is the airplane?”’
Investigators don’t yet know why the plane aborted its landing at Thomson-McDuffie Regional Airport, a small terminal with a 5,500-foot runway about 30 miles west of Augusta.
Sumwalt said investigators would interview air-traffic controllers to see if the pilots made a distress call and search for a flight-data recorder from the plane that might yield clues. He also said authorities had obtained video from a security camera at the airport but had not yet reviewed it.
The Hawker Beechcraft 390/ Premier I, a small business jet that seats two pilots and six passengers, was carrying five staff members of the Vein Guys clinic of vascular medicine specialists in Augusta, said Dr. Stephen Davis, a plastic surgeon who works for an affiliated Vein Guys clinic in Nashville.
The crash killed Dr. Steven Roth, the vascular surgeon at the Augusta clinic, and two of his co-workers, nurse anesthetist Lisa Volpitto and a secretary, Kim Davidson. Their deaths were confirmed Thursday evening by McDuffie County Coroner Foster Wiley.
Davis said two ultrasound technicians were also aboard the flight. He said Roth regularly flew to Vein Guys clinics in the region, though other doctors working for the clinic did not travel. Davis said his brother, Dr. Keith Davis, and Roth co-founded the Augusta clinic. He described Roth as “a great guy, a great doctor, devoted to patients and his family.”
“They’re all hard workers, all great people,” Davis said. “With their kids and family left behind and all that, it’s pretty devastating.”
Two others who died had not yet been positively identified, the coroner said. Investigators said two pilots were also aboard the plane in addition to the clinic employees.