The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

Local News

June 19, 2014

Athens resident's flight diverted because of fatal aircrash

HUNTSVILLE — Former state representative Henry White, his wife, Marsha, and their granddaughter knew some shaky moments Wednesday as their U.S. Airways flight into Huntsville International Airport was diverted at the last moment because of a plane crash just off one of the runways.

The Whites were returning from a visit with their daughter in Arizona. The 82 passengers aboard the U.S. Airways jet were never in danger, White said, as he praised the flight crew for their professional actions.

Officials have identified the three people killed Wednesday in the small plane crash.

According to published media reports, the three killed were Robin Gary Smith, 60, of Yukon, Okla.; Kenneth Lynn Rousseau, 67, of Harpersville; and William Ross Christopher II, 57, of Center Point.

WAFF-48 in Huntsville confirmed that Madison County Coroner David Young identified the victims.

The plane reportedly crashed at 2:25 p.m. Wednesday afternoon after running off the runway and crashing near a fence. The cause of the crash has not been determined and is still under investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board.

The eight-passenger plane, a Westwind II, was registered to SynFuels Holdings Finance LLC of Birmingham.

An FAA official out of Birmingham held an online press conference at 5 p.m. Thursday, saying at least two witnesses to the crash reported they saw the plane rise to a height of 50 to 100 feet and “bank hard right” before crashing and burning in a cotton field.

The FAA is trying to access the cockpit recorder and flight recorder to try to ascertain what occurred in the moments leading up to the crash.

The engine manufacturer will be at the airport Friday to work with FAA and National Transportation Safety Board investigators, he said. A preliminary report will be issued within 10 days and a final report could take 9 months to one year, according to the official.

White said his flight itinerary called for a 2:24 p.m. Huntsville landing.

“We were in the process of descending,” said White. “The flight attendants were in their seats, we could see the tree tops, and then all of a sudden they said there was a wreck and we climbed and circled the airport about three times and then we were diverted to Chattanooga. It was frightening, but we knew our plane was O.K.”

Airport officials closed the airport immediately after the wreck.

“There were 82 people aboard and all of them had to make connecting flights,” said White. “They were going to rent a bus for us in Chattanooga to bring us back, but instead they rented these taxi-cab vans that brought us back from Chattanooga.”

White said he did not see any wreckage from his window and none of the passengers on his flight reported seeing smoke.

“Our pilot didn't take long to pull up and circle around,” said White. “Everyone aboard the flight was real calm.”

White said his daughter-in-law, Christy White, was in the Huntsville terminal awaiting the arrival of the flight that carried her in-laws and her daughter, Aubry.

“I imagine when they announced that there had been a wreck on the runway that it was pretty upsetting for her for awhile,” said White.

White said there was a group of nine students on the U.S. Airways flight that were headed to U.S. Space Camp.

“I'm just glad we're home,” he said. “This certainly is a new experience for Marsha and me.”

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