Thursday, Feb. 21, 2013 | 12:40 p.m.
THOMSON, Ga. — A small plane aborted its landing at a Georgia airport before it hit a 60-foot utility pole and crashed, killing five people onboard and leaving two hurt, federal authorities said Thursday.
National Transportation Safety Board member Robert Sumwalt said at a news conference Thursday afternoon that the plane burst into flames after crashing. One of the plane's wings was cut off when it hit the pole, causing the plane to leak fuel that then ignited, he said. The plane is almost completely destroyed.
"You walk up and you say to yourself, 'Where is the airplane?'" Sumwalt said.
It is not immediately known why the plane aborted its landing.
Thomson-McDuffie County Sheriff Logan Marshall said two survivors were taken to hospitals. A man was in critical condition at Georgia Regents Medical Center in Augusta, hospital spokeswoman Christen Carter said. The condition of the other survivor, and where that person was taken, is not known.
The plane had taken off from Nashville, Tenn., and crashed while it was landing at Thomson-McDuffie Regional Airport, about 30 miles west of Augusta, Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman Kathleen Bergen said.
Georgia Bureau of Investigation spokesman John Bankhead said the five dead were taken to an agency lab in Decatur for autopsies. They have not been identified.
Five of those on board are affiliated with a vein clinic in Augusta that also has offices in Tennessee, said Dr. Stephen Davis, a plastic surgeon who works for the Vein Guys clinic in Nashville. Davis said those on board were: Dr. Steven Roth, two ultrasound technicians, a nurse anesthetist and a secretary. He said Roth regularly flew to Vein Guys clinics in the region, though other doctors working for the clinic did not travel.
Davis said his brother Dr. Keith Davis and Roth co-founded the clinic in Augusta. He described Roth as "a great guy, a great doctor, devoted to patients and his family."
Assistant County Fire Chief Stephen Sewell told the Augusta Chronicle that the two survivors were a pilot and a passenger. But he provided no additional information about those aboard.
A brush fire flared near the crash scene, in woods behind an industrial plant about a half-mile from the airport. Witnesses reported power outages that prompted a utility to send workers to the site.
The crash site was on the opposite side of a state highway from where the runway ends.
Patricia Reese and her husband live in a farmhouse near the site. She said Thursday they were watching TV on Wednesday night when they were startled by noise and a power outage.
"The lights blinked and went off, and all of a sudden we heard this noise," Reece said. "It sounded like thunder that just kept going on and on."
Reece's husband grabbed a flashlight and they headed into the pitch-dark field behind their home. They soon saw flashing lights from emergency vehicles and thick smoke pouring from the woods, she said.