By Holbrook Mohr/The Associated Press
JACKSON — National Transportation Safety Board investigators arrived Wednesday to inspect the wreckage at a house where a small plane crashed, killing the three people aboard the plane and igniting a huge fire.
Terry Williams, with the NTSB in Washington, said investigators would meet with local police and firefighters, the Federal Aviation Administration and a representative from the manufacturer of the Piper PA-32 that slammed into the house Tuesday evening.
Deputy Jackson Fire Chief R.D. Simpson said the bodies would not be removed from the charred crash scene until federal authorities say so.
Simpson said it was fortunate the fire did not spread to other homes in the west Jackson neighborhood of wood and brick homes on small lots.
Authorities have not identified the three victims but the plane’s owner identified one of them as flight instructor John Edward Tilton Jr.
One person was in the house. Loretta Jamison escaped with minor injuries, her nephew Milton Miller said.
Miller, standing behind yellow police tape near his aunt’s house, said his aunt was being treated a burn center in Rankin County for burns on her hands. Miller said Loretta Jamison told relatives that she was in the back portion of the house getting some clothes together when the plane hit.
He said her hands were burned in the fire and she cut herself breaking a window to escape. He said her husband, Roosevelt Jamsion, was at work.
“She’s OK. That’s the important thing. I hate that those men died,” Miller said.
Carl Rankin was in his house about a quarter-mile away when he heard a loud explosion.
“I heard this boom and it shook the whole house,” Rankin said.
He found out what had happened on the news and came by Wednesday morning to see for himself.
Some walls of the house are still standing but the structure was gutted by the fire.
Langley Nelson, who runs Blue Sky Aviation flight school at the Hawkins airport, said he knew Tilton and another of the victims. He described them as very experienced pilots.
Nelson said he was unloading his airplane when the Piper took off.
“It sounded fine. The engine was running strong,” Nelson said.
He did not see the plane go down but later looked back and saw the smoke rising into the sky.
Tilton and the two other pilots had just taken off from Hawkins Field Airport in Jackson on Tuesday when a witness said the single-engine Piper PA-32 began “spitting and sputtering.”
The men on board were headed to a FAA safety conference less than 30 miles away. One of the aviators asked for permission to return to the airport, but just minutes later the plane went down. It crashed through trees before slamming into a house that quickly caught fire, sending long flames and black smoke through the neighborhood of modest single-family homes surrounded by magnolia and oak trees.
One patient from the scene was in good condition at University of Mississippi Medical Center, spokesman Jack Mazurak said late Tuesday. He wouldn’t give the person’s name or gender or the extent of the injuries, citing privacy laws.
The plane was owned by Roger and Michele Latham, from Superior Pallet Company in Flowood, Miss., both of whom showed up at the crash site, along with their grown daughter, Emily Latham.
Emily Latham noted that her father was supposed to have been on board but changed his plans.
“He went hunting,” she said. “Thank God.”
Michele Latham said Tilton was teaching Roger Latham how to fly. She said Latham was 15 hours short of getting his pilot’s license.
“He was one of the finest Christian men I knew,” Roger Latham said. “We had three great men who lost their lives,” he added. “I just want to wake up in a while and say, ‘This didn’t happen.’”
Latham said his plane had been parked in a hangar for a month and they wanted to take it out for a short flight before he flew it to Gulf Shores, Ala., for Thanksgiving. Latham said he had owned the plane for 2 1/2 years and described it as being in mint condition.
Latham said a Jackson police officer who was about a block away when the plane was coming down told him “it was spitting and sputtering and … starving for fuel.”
“I’m sure John was doing everything he possibly could to save the lives on board,” Latham said.
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