Details emerging in Watauga plane crash
by Kellen Moore
Dares was on exchange with the Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point but was flying the small aircraft that crashed on personal time, according to 1st Lt. Megan Greathouse, public affairs officer for the Second Marine Aircraft Wing.
Dares left the Ashe County Airport in Jefferson around 6 p.m. Friday after refueling, according to airport manager Eric Payne.
Around 6:30 p.m., something went terribly wrong, and Dares crashed into a wooded area near Lovie Presnell Road in western Watauga County. John Ferguson, who called 911 to report the accident, said he heard the plane's engine struggling before he heard a boom.
Dares, the only occupant, was taken by ambulance to Watauga Medical Center with injuries that did not appear to be life-threatening.
Now, the National Transportation Safety Board is working to piece together exactly what happened to the homebuilt, experimental aircraft.
"It is too early to determine what caused the crash," said Keith Holloway, public affairs officer for the NTSB.
A preliminary report containing only factual findings may be available online by the end of this week, he said, but a full investigation typically takes 12 to 18 months.
Holloway said the NTSB looks at mechanical, human performance, weather and other factors to determine what went wrong. He said aircraft such as the one that crashed would not necessarily contain flight data recorders or cockpit voice recorders.
The board is not a law enforcement agency; its focus is merely to investigate accidents and make safety recommendations.
Meanwhile, locals are also coming up with their own guesses at what caused the crash.
Payne, the airport manager, said Dares had talked with another airport employee about possible landing sites. He mentioned possibly heading to Mountain City, Tenn., or heading south to the Asheville and Hendersonville area.
Dares also inquired about the landing strips at Elk River or Mountain Air, which are private.
Payne speculated that the plane might have encountered engine trouble in the unfamiliar mountain air.
He said that although Dares did purchase some fuel at the Ashe County Airport, no other planes reported problems, so he doesn't believe tainted fuel was to blame.
Payne said the pilot was lucky that a fire didn't occur after the crash.
"Anytime you can walk away from one and be just a little bruised up, you're in pretty good shape," Payne said.