BEDFORD, Ind. – The man whose small plane slammed into his former mother-in-law's house, killing him and his 8-year-old daughter, had told his ex-wife before the crash he had the girl "and you're not going to get her," the mother-in-law said Tuesday.
Eric Johnson, a student pilot who had soloed before, strapped daughter Emily into the passenger seat of a leased, single-engine Cessna on Monday morning. Less than two hours later, officials said, the plane smashed into the home of Vivian Pace, the girl's grandmother.
Pace told reporters outside her damaged home Tuesday that her daughter, Beth Johnson, after several tries finally got her husband to answer his cell phone shortly before the crash.
He told his ex-wife: "I've got her, and you're not going to get her," she said.
Pace, who was home but wasn't injured, said she believed the crash was deliberate.
"That was the only way he could hurt Beth. That was the only way he could get to her," she said.
Andrew Todd Fox of the National Transportation Safety Board declined to say if Johnson, 47, said anything over the plane's radio before the crash. The airport has no controller on duty, so no recording was available of any communication, he said.
The plane had already crashed but the occupants hadn't been identified when Beth Johnson arrived at the Bedford Police Department to file a missing person report because her daughter hadn't arrived at school that morning after spending the weekend with her father, police Maj. Dennis Parsley said Tuesday.
State and Bedford police were treating the case as a suicide and homicide, State Police 1st Sgt. Dave Bursten said. He said they had yet to find any notes indicating Johnson's intentions with the flight, but the fact that the house was his ex-wife's mother's home raised serious questions.
"All of those things together lead us in the direction that this was done intentionally," Bursten said Tuesday.
The couple had divorced in November after 12 years of marriage, Pace said.
Fox said Tuesday that investigators were looking at whether the plane was functioning properly and hoped to have a preliminary report within a week.
Bedford is about 20 miles south of Bloomington in southern Indiana.
At Parkview Primary School in Bedford, where Emily was a first-grader, counselors were called in to help the students, Principal Sari Wood said Tuesday.
"We're all grieving over this," Wood said. She described Emily as a "dear little girl" who "got a kick out of things and enjoyed life."
"She just was one of those really friendly, really open little kids," Wood said.