Plane crash kills pilot

Passenger stable after crash near DeFuniak

By KELLY HUMPHREY Daily News North Okaloosa Editor

DeFUNIAK SPRINGS — A single-engine Beechcraft Bonanza aircraft crashed on Sunday in a swampy area north of town, killing the pilot and injuring his teenage son.

The plane went down near Old Landfill Road. The names of the two people aboard the plane weren’t immediately released, pending notification of family.

The airplane was registered to John D. Yates of Friendswood, Texas. Federal Aviation Administration records show Allen Dale was listed as another owner of the plane. However, it is unknown whether Yates or Dale were on the plane.

What caused the plane to go down is unclear.

According to Lt. Frank Owens of the Walton County Sheriff ’s Office, the accident was reported to authorities at 12:12 p.m.

“A citizen called the Sheriff’s Office to say that a plane was going down,” Owens said. “Later, another caller said they had heard a loud crash. Then an Air Force pilot reported that he saw a column of smoke in the general vicinity.” Volunteers and rescue personnel from several Walton County emergency agencies and fire departments began searching for the wreckage shortly after the calls were received.

“People in the area who knew something was going on and who had four-wheelers started searching,” Owens said. “Personnel from the fire departments, the Sheriff’s Office, the (DeFuniak Springs) Police Department took part in the search.” About 1:20 p.m., searchers on foot located the wreckage of the plane in a swampy area about 300 yards west of a home at 1115 Old Landfill Road.

“The passenger that was alive was extricated from the plane and was flown by helicopter to Sacred Heart Hospital in Pensacola,” said Bill May, a shift supervisor for the Walton County Emergency Medical Service. “Currently, he is in stable condition.” According to May, rescuers had to wade through waist-deep mud to get to the crash site. The teenage survivor was transported by emergency personnel, who carried him through the swamp to a waiting medical helicopter.

The pilot’s body was removed from the wreckage about 5:40 p.m.

“We had to use small tools and chain saws to get him out,” May said. “It took longer for the second extrication because we had to photograph the scene.

“We had switched from a rescue to a recovery stage, so we were able to slow down and use lead lines to help the personnel get to the scene.” May said the crash site’s terrain was some of the roughest he had responded to in recent memory.

“This was a pretty rough area,” he said. “Gaining access to the scene and getting the live patient out was pretty tough.” Garrett Miller, one of the firefighters who responded to the crash, was covered with mud as he walked toward his vehicle and away from the accident scene following the recovery of the pilot’s body.

“I’m surprised anybody lived,” Miller said. “It was pretty bad.” Although Owens said the airplane was from Texas, he couldn’t say where it was headed or what might have caused the crash.

“We don’t know if it was engine trouble or if there was some sort of medical problem,” he said. “We don’t know any details about the flight plan. The boy wasn’t able to be interviewed yet.” Owens said that personnel from the Federal Aviation Administration were expected to arrive at the scene today to begin their investigation.