No survivors in Great Smoky Mountains National Park plane crash

(Courtesy of: Samantha Hodges)

GATLINBURG (WATE) – Officials say they have pulled three bodies from a plane that went missing over the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

(Photo: Great Smoky Mountains National Park)
(Photo: Great Smoky Mountains National Park)

The National Park Service says the plane was found Tuesday afternoon on an unnamed ridge between Cole Creek and Bearpen Hollow Branch. Paramedics were hoisted down to the scene and discovered no one on the plane had survived. The identities of the victims have not been confirmed.

A release from park officials says they received a report around 7:35 p.m. that a missing single-engine airplane might have gone down southwest of Mount LeConte Lodge. The Federal Aviation Administration issued an alert notice during the night saying that the plane was a Cessna 182 fixed wing single-engine aircraft.

The FAA says the flight was heading to Gatlinburg–Pigeon Forge Airport from Jacksonville, Florida.

There were three people on board. Family members tell WATE 6 On Your Side David Starling, 41; Kim Smith, 42; and Hunter Starling, 8, left on the plane at noon on Monday.

Recovery efforts were completed Wednesday around 5 p.m.. Experts from Big South Fork National Recreation Area, Obed National Scenic Five and Tennessee State Parks helped with the recovery.

(Photo: Great Smoky Mountains National Park)
(Photo: Great Smoky Mountains National Park)

“The plane is positioned on a very steep mountain side and could be at risk of sliding further down into the drainage,” said Chief Ranger, Steve Kloster. “These search and rescue personnel specialize in high angle rescues and have the best knowledge in making sure we conduct our operations in the safest manner possible.”

The FAA alert was issued after a family member notified the agency that the flight didn’t arrive. Information from McGhee Tyson Airport’s tower radar and the plane’s emergency locator transmitter was used to find the area. The Air Force Rescue Coordination Center says the plane was in contact with air traffic controllers at McGhee Tyson. There is no more information on the conversations.

Ground teams searched the area near Bearpen Hollow Branch and southwest of the Bullhead Trail on Tuesday. The wreckage was finally spotted from a single Blackhawk helicopter.

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