Members of the Jasper County Fire Rescue assess a plane crash four miles from Ridgeland-Claude Dean Airport in a wooded area. Jasper County Fire Rescue photo.
RIDGELAND, SC — Jasper County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Jeff Crosby said it was always a relief when you didn’t have to put pieces of someone in a body bag. So when rescuers found the pilot sitting in the wreckage of his plane, the lawman called it a pretty good day.
“I've seen plane crashes where people survive and then some plane crashes where we had to put pieces of human in body bags,” Crosby told Coffee or Die Magazine. “So you never know what you get.”
Initial reports to emergency dispatchers indicated air traffic controllers in Savannah had lost contact with the small plane after 2 p.m., and it crashed before 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, July 30. At first, authorities thought the aircraft went down about 5 miles northwest of the Ridgeland-Claude Dean Airport, but that was 1 mile too far.
That's why Crosby’s deputies couldn't find it. So he dialed the sheriff’s department in neighboring Beaufort County to see if its deputies could help.
A downed plane was reported July 30, 2022, in Ridgeland, South Carolina. Jasper County Fire Rescue photo.
Authorities there launched a helicopter, and at 3:03 p.m., its crew, pilot Don Conaway and Tactical Flight Officer Jeremy Dickman, spotted sheared pines and hunks of metal about 225 feet off a dirt road, near the Almost Heaven Plantation.
That triggered a flood of first responders to the crash site, including the Ridgeland Fire Department, Jasper County Fire-Rescue, and sheriff’s deputies from both Beaufort and Jasper counties. The final tally was three medical units, a light rescue unit, three ambulances, and four law enforcement agencies, according to Jasper County Emergency Services Director Russell “Rusty” Wells.
“It’s not like we’re searching an ocean, but it is a very wide area,” Wells told Coffee or Die. “There are dirt roads, and we’ll call them ‘dirt paths’ — a lot of hunting area out there.”
He called it a “race against time,” because first responders can’t save a life until they find it.
One of Crosby’s deputies stationed at the Ridgeland-Claude Dean Airport watched Baxley land the Beaufort County helicopter and made for it, which is how he was able to bring in the rest of the force, Crosby said.
A flatbed truck totes pieces of a downed plane Tuesday down I-95 near the Savannah Hilton Head International Airport at exit 104 from an accident that occurred on Saturday. Photo by Noelle Wiehe/ Coffee or Die Magazine.
When the sheriff stomped out to see it, he found a blue and silver plane “tore all to crap.”
“He had one of the wings off, took off the top of the pine tree — a pretty good-sized pine tree — and he actually broke one off at the ground, and it spun him around between two other pine trees,” Crosby told Coffee or Die.
Deputies told Crosby the pilot of the wrecked plane had seemed alert when first responders transported him to Memorial Health’s hospital in Savannah.
On Sunday, investigators from the Federal Aviation Administration began probing the crash site.
Three days later, a flatbed truck was spotted toting the pieces of the plane down US Highway 95 South to Georgia.
A flatbed truck totes pieces of a downed plane Tuesday from an accident that occurred on Saturday. Photo by Noelle Wiehe/ Coffee or Die Magazine.
An initial FAA report indicated only that a 2016 Textron Aviation G36 single-engine plane “experienced electrical issues” before it struck a tree in a field. Although it can seat six passengers and crew, there appeared to be only one person on board the aircraft when it went down.
The plane apparently took off from Buckingham Field Airport near Fort Myers, Florida, at 11:43 a.m. on Saturday and crashed while en route to another destination.
According to the FAA, the plane was registered on April 18, 2022, to SALTYBO LLC. That company was incorporated in Delaware on Oct. 29, 2021, state records reveal.
SALTYBO’s registered agent in Wilmington, Aero Incorporate Inc., didn’t respond to Coffee or Die's messages seeking comment.
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Noelle is a former staff writer for Coffee or Die through a fellowship from Military Veterans in Journalism. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and interned with the US Army Cadet Command. Noelle also worked as a civilian journalist covering several units, including the 75th Ranger Regiment on Fort Benning, before she joined the military as a public affairs specialist.
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