Tail section first to resurface after crash in High Rock Lake

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 8, 2012

By Nathan Hardin
SALISBURY — Crews began removing wreckage from the bottom of High Rock Lake on Wednesday after last week’s plane crash that killed a Michigan couple.
Divers found pieces of debris throughout the day, but they weren’t able to locate the fuselage and recover a large part of the tail section until Wednesday evening.
Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board and Federal Aviation Administration were on the scene as members of the Rowan Rescue Squad, Miller’s Ferry Fire Department, Rowan EMS and Davie and Davidson County Rescue Squads worked to salvage the plane.
A Cessna representative and the plane engine’s builder were also at the scene.
Steve Bown and Karyn Martin were killed in the crash that happened around 1:30 p.m. Friday.
Bown, the president of Performance Springs Inc. of New Hudson, Mich., had strong ties to NASCAR.
Rowan County Fire Marshal Tom Murphy told the Post on Sunday that Bown had stopped in Davidson County on racing business.
The couple left from Davidson County Airport about 1:15 p.m. Friday.
Todd Thaxton, an airplane recovery specialist, helped coordinate salvage efforts with crews on the water.
“You just never know what you’re going to get,” Thaxton said before the tail section was lifted late Wednesday evening.
Crews spent a large part of eight hours on the water picking through debris patches looking for the aircraft’s key parts that would help investigators begin putting the puzzle together.
“The section that we’re looking for that’s what we really want,” he said. “It’s been difficult not being able to find those pieces.”
Crews said the debris field was large after the crash. Most of the pieces found were small parts from the wings.
Thaxton, who recovers crashed planes across the U.S., said a lot of planes he recovers are more intact than the Cessna 350 Bown was piloting.
The plane’s velocity at the time of impact could be the reason the plane broke apart, he said.
“It looks like it was a high-energy impact,” Thaxton said.
It doesn’t appear the plane was trying to land, Thaxton said, but even if it was, a plane would typically be going at least 70 mph.
Some crew members speculated it could have crashed going more than 100 mph.
With the sun going down and water temperatures plummeting, crews moved quickly to locate the wreckage Wednesday evening.
Several divers from Rowan and Davie County had scoured the bottom finding small debris and tree stumps all afternoon.
The wind was kicking up and it was difficult to maintain a location on the water for very long.
But crews’ spirits rose quickly when diver Max Messinger came to the surface about 6 p.m.
He was shaking uncontrollably but he had found something.
Something he could only describe to crews as “massive.”
After being taken to shore to warm up, Messinger came back to see what they found.
“I couldn’t tell if it was a whole piece,” Messinger said. “I felt something that felt like a seatbelt so I clipped the seatbelt and came up.”
Despite being in the pitch black on the lake bottom in temperatures around 49 degrees, Messinger said “it wasn’t me who found it.”
“The sonar guys found it and the guys who have been doing it out here all day,” he said. “It was a team effort.”
Rowan Rescue Squad Assistant Chief Eddie Cress said crews will return on Thursday to finish recovering the aircraft’s larger pieces.
Contact reporter Nathan Hardin at 704-797-4246.