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National Transportation Safety Board Releases Preliminary Report On Plane Crash in Western Watauga

Photos by Jesse Wood

by Jesse Wood

July 16, 2012. Today, the National Transportation Safety Board released its preliminary report regarding last week’s plane crash in Western Watauga.

The report stated the pilot, Capt. Maxwell Dares, left Mountain City on his way to Asheville, and was flying a Piel Emeraude CP-305, an experimental amateur-built craft. 

The report stated, “According to the pilot, he was navigating along a river when he encountered a 90-degree bend. He decided to climb the airplane over a mountain rather than continue to follow the river, as it provided a more direct course to his destination. As the airplane began to climb, the pilot noted trees, but the airplane descended, and made a “controlled crash” into the trees.”

To view entire report, click here.

For extensive details on the crash and photos, scroll below. 

Pilot Deftly Maneuvers Crashing Plane in Western Watauga Woods, ‘Either He’s Very Lucky or Very Smart’

Update: The Canadian pilot is Capt. Maxwell Douglas Dares, an exchange pilot with the Canadian Air Force flying C-130s out of Cherry Point with the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing. He was flying his own plane for recreation travelling from Ashe County to Asheville. 

By Jesse Wood

July 7, 2012. The scene of the last night’s plane crash in Western Watauga looked like a setting in a fiction novel: in seemingly the middle of nowhere in Appalachia, surrounded by trees, rock outcroppings and a steep landscape, was the wreckage of a small yellow plane, the tail sticking 20 feet in in the air and the nose stuck in the ground.

Scattered wreckage, snapped trees and the pilots’ personal belongings littered the site of the crash – which happened Friday evening at about 6:30 p.m. and 100 yards from John Ferguson’s home atop Lovie Presnell Road, which is a steep, windy gravel road off of Spice Creek Road in the Shawneehaw Fire District.

Ferguson called 911 after he heard the plane’s engine “boom” and then a “crack,” the snapping of a tree. The pilot, the lone person on board, left the scene on a stretcher but otherwise was OK, sustaining only minor injuries. Ferguson said the pilot was a “little vauge” as to what happened just before the crash – apparently because he took a “little bump to the head.”

“Either he was very lucky or very smart,” Ferguson said.

The nose of the aircraft struck the top of a 30-foot buckeye tree – ensuring a soft-as-possible landing. The tree, which never completely snapped in two, split about 9 feet from the base of the tree. In another possibly life-saving maneuver, the pilot emptied out all of his fuel before he went down, ensuring that a explosion didn’t occur. 

The buckeye tree that the pilot crashed into that softened the landing. Photo by Jesse Wood

According to the State Highway Patrol, which investigates plane crashes, the Canadian pilot is Capt. Maxwell Douglas Dares, 30. He is a member of the Canadian Air Force and an exchange pilot flying C-130s out of Cherry Point with the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing. He resides in Beaufort and was flying his own plane. A sticker on the tail of the plane said, “Fly Marine – The Best Always Have.” 

Max took off from Ashe County and was heading towards Asheville, according to the State Highway Patrol. He was looking to land at the next airport for the night, which would have been near Elk River. 

The plane was a single-person capacity, fixed-wing aircraft, known as an Ultralight. Those kinds of plane are known for their susceptibility to turbulence caused by stormy weather, which the High Country did experience yesterday evening, though the official cause is still unknown.

Inside the cockpit on the control panels was a small plaque that stated, “Experimental – Amateur Built Craft.”

The tree split about nine feet from the base of the 30-foot buckeye tree that the pilot crashed into.

Jim Peters, a spokesperson from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said the aircraft was registered in Canada. Peters added that the agency doesn’t ordinarily investigate plane crashes involving Ultralights, which don’t have to meet the standards of aircraft.

A closer view of the cockpit and plane that crashed Friday evening.

Responding to the scene yesterday evening were a slue of emergency vehicles, including Watauga County Sheriff’s Office, Shawneehaw Volunteer Fire Department, Watauga Rescue and Watauga Medics and other squads. 

The tail of the plane - notice the Marine sticker.

Around the crash site were parts of the plane, which remained for the most part in tact, a pair of jeans, plastic oil bottles, a flashlight, a Brisk soda can, green rope, headphones and a fire extinguisher. 

Peters said that a local investigation will ensue. Since the plane was registered in Canada, the FAA will prepare a preliminary report and send it to the Canadian Aviation Authority in Ottawa. 

 This afternoon, Max, who walking with a slight limp, brought a U-Haul to the site of the crash and hauled the wreckage away.