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Son unable to save dad from fiery plane crash

Staff Photo: Jason Braverman. Working alongside the National Transportation Safety Board, an unidentified worker uses a crane on Tuesday afternoon to remove the propeller of a twin-engine aircraft that crashed in Lawrenceville on Monday.

Staff Photo: Jason Braverman. Working alongside the National Transportation Safety Board, an unidentified worker uses a crane on Tuesday afternoon to remove the propeller of a twin-engine aircraft that crashed in Lawrenceville on Monday.

LAWRENCEVILLE -- Four men involved in a fatal plane crash this week were Lawrenceville residents who'd come together at the last minute for a quick flight around the county, according to a police report released Tuesday.

The pilot who was killed, Mell Hall, 67, was the lone occupant his son couldn't rescue, police said.

Passengers told police the twin-engine aircraft was airborne from Gwinnett County Airport for about 20 seconds when the first engine quit, followed by the second. Hall's son, Josh Hall, 25, warned that they were "going to hit hard" before the aircraft clipped several trees, landed behind a home on Simmons Circle near downtown Lawrenceville and caught fire.

Josh Hall unbuckled seat belts worn by the two passengers -- his friend Kenneth West, 29, and a student pilot invited along by Mell Hall, Douglas Mills, 53 -- and opened an emergency hatch before turning his attention to his father, witnesses told police.

Police said Josh Hall endured severe burns to his face and scalp but was unable to free his father, as "the flames had become (too) intense," an officer wrote. Emergency responders found the wreckage engulfed in flames in a wooded area beside a pond.

All three passengers suffered non-life-threatening burns. Josh Hall, described by police as the most seriously injured, was treated and released from Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta, a hospital spokesperson said.

Reached by phone Tuesday, a woman who identified herself as Mills' wife declined to speak with a reporter or update his condition. No other victim could be reached. A Gwinnett Medical Center spokesperson said the remaining passengers had been released from hospital care.

The process of combing for answers was just beginning Tuesday.

Eric Alleyne, an air safety investigator with the National Transportation Safety Board's Atlanta field office, said his preliminary investigation has corroborated witness accounts: Shortly after takeoff the plane lost power in one engine, then the other, he said.

"The pilot declared emergency, saying that he couldn't make it back (to the airport) and decided to put it down behind a home in a wooded area."

Alleyne said investigators were focused on locating the wreckage to begin reconstruction of the plane later this week. Officials expect it will take as long as a year before a factual report or accident brief is formulated. The Federal Aviation Administration is also investigating.

The plane's registered owner, Bob Watson, of Dawsonville, told police he'd lent the 1960 Beechcraft Queen Air to Mell Hall on consignment in an effort to sell it, the report says. Watson did not return calls Tuesday.

The incident marks the second fatal crash involving a twin-engine plane taking off from Gwinnett County Airport in recent months.

In October, a Cessna headed for Sparta, Tenn. slammed into a home in Lawrenceville's Southern Trace subdivision, killing the pilot and a woman inside the home.