Key parts of plane salvaged from High Rock Lake

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 8, 2012

By Nathan Hardin
SALISBURY — Salvage crews pulled in what investigators believe are the most important parts of a Cessna aircraft that crashed into High Rock Lake last week.
The plane’s cockpit and motor were lifted from the water about 4:45 p.m.
Todd Thaxton, a plane recovery specialist, described Thursday’s recovery as “key” for investigators’ reconstruction of the crash.
“The engine is what they’re going to most want to see,” Thaxton said. “That’s going to tell you if the plane was running when it hit the water.”
Thaxton said a representative from the engine builder was on-site along with investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board and Federal Aviation Administration. A Cessna official was also on the scene.
Thursday was the second day crews spent salvaging the plane from High Rock Lake.
Steve Bown and Karyn Martin were killed last Friday when their plane went down shortly after leaving Davidson County Airport about 1:15 p.m.
Bown, the president of Performance Springs Inc. of New Hudson, Mich., had strong ties to NASCAR. Officials said the couple stopped in Lexington on racing business.
The second important part recovered on Thursday, Thaxton said, was the plane’s avionics.
“They’ll be able to check those,” he said. “If there’s any memory in the avionics, they can tell if there was a problem with the electronics.”
Crews worked for nearly four hours before getting the cockpit off the lake bottom.
Members of the Rowan Rescue Squad, Rowan Sheriff’s Office, Liberty Fire, Miller’s Ferry Fire, Rowan EMS, Davie and Davidson County rescue squads assisted in the recovery. A contamination crew and representatives from Alcoa also were present.
Divers went down one at a time Thursday afternoon, working to attach ropes to the plane’s engine and cargo hold.
The plane’s motor sat on top of the silt mud bottom and crews believed the fuselage, which normally sits lower than the motor, was deep in mud.
But after hours of diving, Barry Childers, who was hired to drive his dock construction barge for salvage crews, was able to lift the aircraft motor several feet from the bottom using a floating crane.
After getting it off the lake floor, divers used support ropes to secure the fuselage and hoist it onto the platform.
Teams of workers hoisted lines of rope for about 45 minutes before getting the debris pile on deck.
Aside from a cockpit seat, much of the decimated plane appeared nearly unrecognizable.
Thaxton pointed out parts in the debris to rescue members: pieces of the landing gear, engine controls, cockpit, intake tubes, electronics’ wiring and portions of the fuselage.
“This shows you how hard that airplane hit,” he said, pointing at a significantly damaged engine. “The oil pan is supposed to be bubbled out. It’s flat.”
Rowan County Rescue Squad Assistant Chief Eddie Cress said he hopes recovering the cockpit will help investigators bring closure for families. “It’s been a good experience to be able to help recover, with all the bad there was about the crash,” Cress said. “To help the family get closure — that’s what it’s all about for us.”
Cress said it was the first plane recovery the Rescue Squad has assisted with. He said he hopes the training will make the organization better.
“It was challenging at times,” he said. “I watched a lot of departments and a lot of people working shoulder to shoulder to accomplish something.”
Cress said one of the major factors was the lake’s temperature. It was around 49 degrees on Wednesday.
Rowan Rescue Squad diver Johnny Weddington was one of several who helped get the fuselage off the lake bottom Thursday.
The experience of Wednesday, he said, helped him know what to expect.
“This is something not everybody gets to do,” Weddington said. “This has given us something to think about and it helps as far as equipment to buy and training to do for the next one.”
Contact reporter Nathan Hardin at 704-797-4246.