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Plane crash victims were Fla. family

LAWRENCEVILLE - A Florida family was the victim of a Christmas Day plane crash outside Gwinnett County's airport.

Michael Allan Mucha, 44, his wife, Norma Ann Mucha, 43, and their daughter, Samantha Ann Mucha, 16, died when they were ejected from a Cessna 414 late Monday.

All were from Davie, Fla., said Ted Bailey, chief forensic investigator for the Gwinnett County Medical Examiner's Office.

The family was planning to visit relatives in Gwinnett for Christmas when their plane crashed outside Gwinnett County Airport at Briscoe Field around 8:40 p.m., said Michael Punziano, whose son owns the Airline Training Academy that shares an address with the plane's registration.

"He was a great man, a great father, a good pilot," Punziano said. "He was a great family man, he always had a smile on his face. He was always willing to help anybody."

Michael Mucha was an instrument-rated pilot, Punziano said, and flew often enough to maintain his proficiency.

The plane, a Cessna 414 Chancellor, was registered to ATA of Broward Corp., a Pembroke Pines, Fla.-based corporation. Punziano said Mucha had owned the Airline Training Academy flight school before he sold it more than a year ago.

Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman Laura Brown said Mucha's plane left Palm Beach County Glade Airport, which is also known as Pahokee, around 5:30 p.m. Monday on its way to Briscoe Field. The plane was manufactured in 1970 and was last verified for airworthiness in April of 1997, according to the FAA's registration Web site.

Neither Brown nor Eric Alleyne, an aviation safety investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board, would speculate about what might have caused the crash, but both said conditions had been foggy at the airport.

According to the Sean Ryan, an intern at the National Weather Service, visibility at the airport was down to half a mile at 7:45 p.m., the last time a reading was taken Monday night. An hour earlier, visibility had been three-quarters of a mile, he said.

"Less than five-eighths of a mile is considered to be more significant," Ryan said. "The fog was getting denser. More than likely, it did continue to do so."

Alleyne said it could be six months to a year before the cause of the crash is known.

The twin-engine plane, which holds between four and eight people, lost contact with the airport's air traffic control tower around 8:30 p.m., Brown said.

The pilot had tried to make an instrument landing, but missed on its first attempt, possibly because of heavy fog in the area, Brown said.

On the second landing attempt, the plane crashed into a rock conveyer belt at a CWM Contracting Company plant near the intersection of U.S. Highway 29 and Boulderbrook Circle in Lawrenceville, Alleyne said.

"We're trying to make a determination of how to get it out of there," Alleyne said. "It's mangled in with the conveyer belt."

Pieces of the plane were scattered over 400 feet, he said, with a part of the tail stuck in the conveyer and a wheel to the left of the wreckage.

The victims had all been ejected from the plane, said Lt. Craig Stanley, spokesman for the Gwinnett County Fire Department.

Stanley said originally that first responders were searching for other victims in the area, but a flight plan filed with the FAA indicated that the three Muchas were the only people on board the plane, Brown said.

The airport's air traffic controller spoke with Michael Mucha to confirm his approach, Stanley said, then called 911 after seeing an orange glow in the distance. The pilot did not make any kind of distress call, he said.

David Norton, a maintenance technician at the airport, said this was the first major crash at Briscoe Field this year. Near Thanksgiving, he said, a plane's landing gear collapsed but no one was injured in that accident.

Norton said he had no other comment about the crash. Airport Director Matt Smith is out of town for the holidays.

Alleyne said this is the eighth plane crash he has handled this year and the second of the holiday season.