A reconnaissance flight by the Tennessee Army National Guard was able to locate the missing single engine airplane within Great Smoky Mountains National Park at about 4:43 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 27.The plane was found on an unnamed ridge between Cole Creek and Bearpen Hollow Branch. Paramedics on board were hoisted down to the crash site and confirmed that there were no survivors. The identities of the victims have not been confirmed.
“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.”
Ground teams searched the steep and heavily wooded area on foot Tuesday, but were unable to access some areas due to the rough terrain. A single Blackhawk helicopter was able to fly late afternoon and spotted the wreckage along the last known flight path of the missing aircraft. Recovery efforts of the three victims will begin on Wednesday, Dec. 28.
The plane was in route to the Gatlinburg-Pigeon Forge Airport from Florida on Monday, Dec. 26, when it went missing over the park at about 4:01 p.m. The three occupants of the plane, David Starling, 41, Kim Smith, 42, and Hunter Starling, 8, were from Bradford County, Florida. The National Transportation Safety Board will be the lead in the investigation of the plane crash.
The National Park Service worked closely with the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center, Civil Air Patrol, Federal Aviation Administration, and Tennessee Emergency Management Agency in this search effort.