Gulf oil spill recovery exec dead in plane crash

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An executive helping to guide BP's recovery from the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, a top Texas lawyer and his mother-in-law were killed in a small plane crash in waters off northern Florida, officials said Wednesday.

James Patrick Black, 58, died about a mile from the Destin airport in the Florida Panhandle on Tuesday night, said BP spokeswoman Hejdi Feick. Those who knew them said the three were bound for a Thanksgiving holiday gathering in Florida.

Black was director of operations for BP's Gulf Coast Restoration Organization and had a key role guiding the business unit created after April's Deepwater Horizon rig fire and explosion and monthslong spill that spewed at least 200 millions of crude oil from a blown-out BP well.

Investigators also said former Texas solicitor general, 47-year-old Gregory Scott Coleman, and his mother-in-law, Charlene Black Miller, 63, died when the Piper Malibu that Coleman was piloting from Texas via New Orleans went down in limited visibility while approaching the airport.

Black had worked for BP for 34 years, Feick said in a statement.

"BP extends its heartfelt sorrow to the family of our friend and colleague, Jim Black," Lamar McKay, chairman and president of BP America Inc., said in an e-mail statement.

"Jim was a devoted member of our Gulf Coast spill response team," the statement added. "He will be missed by all who knew him and worked with him."

Coleman was a prominent lawyer and Texas' top appellate lawyer as the state's first solicitor general, appointed in 1999.

Coleman's career included clerking for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and he later went on to argue several cases before the U.S. Supreme Court including two within a week of each other in 2009, according to Christian J. Ward, a partner in the Yetter Coleman firm where Coleman had joined about 3½ years ago.

Coleman of Cedar Park, Texas, was appointed by John Cornyn, then state attorney general and now a U.S. senator who mourned the deaths and said of Coleman in an e-mail: "He was a dear friend, a first-rate lawyer, and an even better human being."

Flying was a hobby for Coleman who also flew on legal business, Ward said, adding the three were bound for a Thanksgiving gathering in Florida with relatives. Coleman's wife and sons were there waiting for him, Ward added.

"We are feeling this loss, not just because we lost a partner and a high-quality lawyer, but because we lost the highest-quality friend," Ward said.

Etcher said crews recovered a part of the plane and that Coleman was qualified for instrument flying in conditions of low visibility. Visibility around the airport was limited Tuesday night when the plane was approaching Destin after a stop in New Orleans, he added.


Associated Press Writers Lisa Orkin Emmanuel in Miami and Danny Robbins in Dallas, Texas, contributed to this report