Body recovered from plane wreckage

Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 3, 2012

By Mark Wineka
SALISBURY — Divers recovered the body late this morning of Steve Bown from the underwater wreckage of his four-seater Cessna 350 plane, which crashed Friday afternoon into High Rock Lake.
The recovery came at 11:42 a.m. when divers Pete Ressa and Chris Moroch located Bown’s body in the plane’s fuselage 27 feet underwater and brought it back to the surface.
Karyn Martin also died in the Friday crash. Her body was recovered from the lake about an hour after the plane went down.
Bown was president of Performance Springs Inc. of New Hudson, Mich. The company, which produces valve springs for engines, has strong ties to the racing industry, including NASCAR.
“He had been here (in Davidson County) on racing business,” Rowan County Fire Marshal Tom Murphy said.
The Cessna Columbia 350 took off from the Davidson County airport about 1:15 p.m. Friday, heading for Florida, and was only in the air briefly before crashing. Reports said the plane’s landing gear was still down.
The couple apparently had flown from Commerce Township, Mich., the day before and spent the night in Davidson County so Bown could conduct business.
A recent Popular Mechanics article credited Performance Springs with producing the steel spring that revolutioned NASCAR by providing engines with increased power. The spring’s job is to keep an engine valve closed.
Performance Springs was founded in 1996, and Bown was lead engineer besides being the company president. The firm also provided springs for racing teams in IRL and NHRA Pro Stock.
The divers found Bown’s body on their first dive into the water, and the recovery was made in roughly 12 minutes.
Rescue teams and divers had prepared for a long day, assembling at Tamarac Marina in Rowan County before boats went out to the marked crash site. The plane, thought to be fairly new, went down in a wide part of the lake near Cow Island.
Ressa, a Davie County Rescue Squad diver with 23 years of experience, credited the rescue operation’s organization for helping with the quick recovery of the body after heavy fog curtailed the search late Friday afternoon.
“What we do, we do for the families,” Ressa said. “It’s a necessary thing.”
Moroch said the divers simply followed as fundamental rule: “You plan your dive, and you dive your plan.”
The National Transportation Safety Board, which did not yet have representatives on site, was to guide efforts to salvage the plane.
Ressa reported that “a very large part of the plane is intact.” He and Moroch, an independent diver out of Statesville, said they felt a main part of the fuselage, one wing and a horizontal stabilizer during their dive.
Visibility in the lake water was “zero,” Ressa said. Water temperature was 41 degrees.
Divers from Rowan County, Thomasville, Fair Grove Fire Department, Davie County and Davidson County were assembled and ready to go today.
The primary mission for Saturday, Murphy said, was to find Bown’s body.
Authorities here confirmed the couple’s identities at midnight through the Michigan State Police.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263.