SAVANNAH, Ga. – Five people aboard a single-engine plane died when the aircraft crashed in rural southeast Georgia, scattering debris across a wooded area a few miles from the local airport, authorities said Thursday.
"We don't have an intact plane," said Vic Peacock, the Bacon County coroner, who estimated pieces of the airplane were flung across an area of pine forest about 300 feet in diameter. "There's wreckage everywhere in this small area. It just disintegrated, basically."
Peacock said four men and a woman, most of them friends since high school, were killed in the crash a few miles outside Alma, a rural city about 100 miles southwest of Savannah.
The Federal Aviation Administration said the plane, a single-engine RV-10, crashed Wednesday about 4 miles east of the small Bacon County Airport. The National Transportation Safety Board was investigating the cause of the crash.
Authorities believe the plane went down shortly after taking off from the local airport Wednesday at about 2:30 a.m., said Bacon County Sheriff Richard Foskey.
"They didn't file a flight plan and we don't know why they took off at this time of the morning," Foskey said Thursday.
Deputies were dispatched after a resident called the sheriff's office before dawn to report a sound like a low-flying plane and a loud boom, Foskey said, but they found nothing. The wreckage wasn't discovered until Wednesday afternoon after the wife of the plane's owner reported him and the others missing and an air search was launched.
The sheriff said he doesn't believe any survivors would have been found had authorities located the crash sooner.
"From what I saw out there, there's no way anybody could have walked out of that crash scene," Foskey said. "It was just too devastating."
The coroner identified the owner of the plane as 38-year-old Waylon Boatright of Alma. Boatright, a local farmer of blueberries and other crops, was among the dead and the sheriff said authorities believe he was flying the plane.
Also killed were Drayden Sears, 24; Logan Tomberlin, 23; Ethan Hampton, 23; and Angel Wade, 20. All were from Alma.
"They were just all friends," Peacock said. "A lot of them were classmates in school."
The website for manufacturer Van's Aircraft describes the RV-10 as a homebuilt, four-seat airplane sold in a kit.