Plane stolen in Rowan crashes; passengers dead, drugs found
By Shavonne Walker
SALISBURY — An airplane stolen from Mid-Carolina Regional Airport last week was found crashed in Kentucky with a large sum of money and cocaine inside. The two passengers were dead.
The Rowan County Sheriff’s Office says it all started when Jonathan Paul Byler, 33, of Mocksville, intended to sell his Bellanca Viking 17-30A, a four-seater airplane. The plane was kept at the Rowan airport, 3670 Airport Loop.
He met George Tucker, a man Byler said was interested in buying the plane. Tucker apparently was in pilot’s school and was not yet licensed to fly. Byler met Tucker and Devon Baker, who reportedly was licensed to fly, on April 23 for a test run.
Byler said he and the two men had a test flight with no problems. On April 24, Byler received a call from his insurance company to report the plane was involved in a crash in Henderson City, Kentucky.
Byler believes Baker and Tucker, 48, took the plane for another ride, but Tucker returned to the hangar with Barry Hill, 47. Witnesses at Mid-Carolina Regional Airport said the plane left Rowan County at 8:30 p.m. April 23.
Byler then received a call from Kentucky State Police and was told that both men who took the plane were killed.
Kentucky authorities said Tucker was piloting the plane and it apparently ran out of gas, causing the motor to stall and nose-dive into the ground. Both Tucker and Hill were from Sanford.
Byler told Rowan authorities he didn’t know Barry Hill. Kentucky media outlets have reported that Tucker is a family friend of Byler. He filed a theft report Friday after a request from his insurance company. The plane was valued at $45,000.
Rowan County Sheriff Kevin Auten said it’s obvious to him that at some point, cocaine was brought to Rowan County, possibly to be put onto the plane.
“Certainly the plane crash takes priority and with two individuals deceased, obviously they could tell the story of that cocaine and that money if they were here,” Auten said. “But you just play connect the dots to see what kind of investigation we need to do from here.”
Auten said there haven’t been many thefts of airplanes or belongings from the airport, but as with any property, it’s a good idea to check it from time to time.