'Tragic, tough day': Plane crashes into home, killing 2

Photo by Corinne Nicholson

Photo by Corinne Nicholson

LAWRENCEVILLE -- Two people died Friday when a personal transport aircraft fell from the sky and incinerated a Lawrenceville home, officials said.

The plane crash is said to have killed the plane's pilot -- a man traveling alone -- and an unsuspecting woman in her home, a large two-story in Lawrenceville's Southern Trace subdivision.

The home was destroyed in minutes.

Authorities believe the pilot, flying a twin-engine Cessna, had departed Briscoe Field at Gwinnett County Airport and was in transition to an airport tower at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. Facing low clouds and drizzly conditions, the plane lost altitude and slammed into the home, located about five miles from the Lawrenceville airfield.

The pilot gave no distress signals and had yet to be identified by radio towers in Atlanta, said Gwinnett County Fire Department spokesman Capt. Thomas Rutledge. The pilot has not been identified.

Firefighters responded at 1:13 p.m. to 911 calls reporting the plane flew in overhead and struck the home's exterior.

"The structure was pretty much on the ground at that point," Rutledge said.

Rutledge said it was too early to determine if rainy conditions could have factored into the crash. The pilot was headed to Sparta, Tenn.

Employees at nearby Collins Hill Golf Club said golfers reported the plane clipped a tall tree in an area known as "the swamp" near the sixth green before diving into the subdivision.

Jerry Hennebaul, who lives next door to the destroyed home, dived under a desk in his home office when he heard a low-flying plane revving its engine "almost like he was trying to throttle it," Hennebaul said.

Then, an explosion.

Hennebaul ran through his garage to find flames shooting from his neighbor's home, pieces of aluminum -- apparently remnants of the plane -- strewn about both front yards.

Hennebaul said the woman's husband had been upstairs in the home and ran outside upon impact. He said the couple are in their late 50s or early 60s and lived alone.

"He kept trying to go back in to get her," Hennebaul said. "I kept pulling him back. The flames were pretty high at that time, shooting through the roof."

The victim's husband escaped injury.

Hennebaul said the plane appeared to have struck the home in its garage, which led to a den.

"I'm counting blessings and sorry at the same time," he said.

The bulk of the fire was controlled by 3 p.m., but firefighters worked to control deep-seated hot spots at the scene hours after the crash.

Once a natural gas leak below the home could be stopped, Rutledge said the investigation would be turned over to the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board, a federal agency that probes all civil aviation accidents in the United States.

No other homes in the area were damaged, Rutledge said. An evacuation zone included houses on either side of the destroyed home and residences across the street.

Hennebaul called the couple next door amiable folks.

"They're very nice people, good neighbors," he said. "We're a small neighborhood, everybody's pretty close. It's just a tragic, tough day."