Three dead in Smokies plane crash

Three people have died in a plane crash that occurred Monday, Dec. 26, in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The three victims were David Starling, 41, Kim Smith, 42, and Hunter Starling, 8, all of Bradford County, Florida.

The search for the Cessna 182  — a fixed-wing, single-engine aircraft — began when it was reported missing south of the Sevierville Airport. Late in the day on Tuesday, Dec. 27, the Tennessee Army National Guard found the plane on an unnamed ridge between Cole Creek and Bearpen Hollow Branch, in the park. 

On Wednesday, Dec. 28, recovery operations began. The Smokies technical rescue team saw support in the mission by experts from the Big South Fork National Recreation Area, the Obed National Scenic River and Tennessee State Parks. This required securing the plane wreckage and extracting the victims via helicopter, all done in a steep and heavily wooded terrain. 

“The plane is positioned on a very steep mountainside and could be at risk of sliding further down into the drainage,” said Smokies 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.” 

Agencies involved in the search and rescue operation include the Tennessee Army National Guard, Air Force Rescue Coordination Center, Civil Air Patrol, Federal Aviation Administration, National Transportation Safety Board, Tennessee Emergency Management Agency and Tennessee State Parks along with rangers from Obed National Scenic River and Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area. The National Transportation Safety Board is conducting an investigation of the crash.

Above: The search and rescue team embarks on their mission. NPS photo

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