Amid investigation, mourners drawn to site of Augusta plane crash (2024)

By Nick Viland, Hallie Turner, Audrey Dickherber, Nick Proto, Taylor Martin, Hector Munoz, Chris Lloyd, Will Rioux, Liz Owens, Macy Neal, Steve Byerly and Lois White

Published: May. 2, 2024 at 7:48 AM EDT|Updated: May. 3, 2024 at 9:55 PM EDT

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - The debris of a plane was cleared from an Augusta neighborhood just a day after its crash shattered a quiet morning and took the pilot’s life.

With the plane’s debris shipped off for analysis by the National Transportation Safety Board, neighbors are ready to move on from the crash while honoring the pilot who saved lives on the ground by steering the doomed plane away from homes.

NTSB investigators were at the crash scene at Hillcrest Avenue and Belmount Drive for much of Friday – as were people who knew the pilot who died.

According to the Federal Aviation Administration, the single-engine Beechcraft Bonanza A36 crashed around 7:13 a.m. Thursday. It had just taken off from nearby Daniel Field and was bound for New Haven, Conn., according to flight records.

What we know about the aircraft, investigation

The National Transportation Safety Board will lead the investigation of an airplane crash that killed the pilot Thursday morning in an Augusta neighborhood.

Amid investigation, mourners drawn to site of Augusta plane crash (1)

‘One of a kind’: Heroic pilot is mourned in Augusta, elsewhere

The community is mourning a pilot who died Thursday morning in an Augusta plane crash – a man many are calling a hero for saving lives on the ground.

Amid investigation, mourners drawn to site of Augusta plane crash (2)

By 3 p.m. Friday, all the debris from the plane had been loaded onto a trailer, the yellow tape around the crash scene had been taken down and the streets had reopened.

Neighbors almost immediately planned a memorial nearby.

They want it to be a place to remember Jason McKenzie – the plane’s sole occupant.

It’ll be a place for people to leave flowers or share memories of the man who touched so many lives – and saved others.

People who knew him started coming there on Thursday, and they continued on Friday.

Meanwhile, some neighbors were reliving the memory of hearing the plane’s engine whining before it crashed in a yard after clipping a tree, then erupted in flames.

At least one video doorbell captured audio of the crash, with the ominous sound of the plane’s engine growing louder and louder until it can be heard hitting a tree and then exploding.

Amid investigation, mourners drawn to site of Augusta plane crash (3)

Amid investigation, mourners drawn to site of Augusta plane crash (4)Amid investigation, mourners drawn to site of Augusta plane crash (5)Amid investigation, mourners drawn to site of Augusta plane crash (6)Amid investigation, mourners drawn to site of Augusta plane crash (7)Amid investigation, mourners drawn to site of Augusta plane crash (8)

Hank Griffin was getting dressed for the day when the crash happened.

“I did not hear the plane the engine noise, but I definitely heard the crash, and it actually rattled my house,” he said.

“Scared me to death. I felt somebody was actually breaking in the house,” he said.

Then he decided it was probably a blown transformer.

It wasn’t until he went outside that he saw what had happened.

“It’s just such a tragedy. Just, you know, turns out I know the pilot. So we’re thinking about him and his family,” he said.

He remembers McKenzie as someone who always had good things to say about people.

“Just you know, the kind of person you want to be around, the kind of person you want to be associated with,” he said.

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“I think he’s been praised as a hero for avoiding any of the homes and potential loss of life here on the street, and you know, that’s the kind of guy he was,” he said.

“That’s just a testament to his character and who he who he was. Obviously, we don’t know what happened to the aircraft. We don’t know the circ*mstances of the crash but ... the potential for catastrophe could have been much, much worse. So, as awful as this is, it could have been a lot worse.”

Mornings aren’t something Griffin will be taking for granted.

“We just have to appreciate every day that’s given to us and live it – live it to the best we can,” he said.

Flight records show the plane only reached an altitude of 625 feet before crashing.

The plane clipped a tree that ripped off the left wingtip – which remained high in the tree until firefighters with the Georgia Search and Rescue team took it down around 5 p.m. Thursday.

After hitting the tree, the plane crashed in a yard across the street and erupted in flames.

Amid investigation, mourners drawn to site of Augusta plane crash (10)

Like Griffin, other neighbors are thankful.

One neighbor noted that the plane’s wingtip was in a tree only a few yards from his child’s nursery on the top floor of his home.

Another neighbor, Lisa Lewis, reflected on how bad things could’ve been.

“I’m just thankful no one else on the ground was hurt,” she said, especially since so many people are out walking their dogs or taking a run in the mornings.

It was a normal quiet morning, and she was waking up her son for school when she heard it.

“We hear planes all the time because we live close to Daniel Field, but this time it was way louder than normal, and it got louder and louder and it just sounded like it was right outside the window,” she said. “A few seconds later, you kind of heard some sort of rustling kind of crash and then a loud banging pop sound.”

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The electricity immediately went out.

“It was so obvious it must have been a plane crash,” she said.

“We ran outside and there were just people everywhere,” she said.

“Oh the flames were, they were so tall,” she said – reaching as high as a two-story home.

She said she’s thankful and a little scared, “but we know the Lord is in control of all things. ... It could have been so much worse.”

Amid investigation, mourners drawn to site of Augusta plane crash (12)

Augusta Fire Chief Antonio Burden said first responders kept the fire from spreading.

“The quick actions of our initial teams that arrived on scene were able to contain the origin of the fire,” Burden says.

Burden says with these types of investigations, “thoroughness is of the essence, but it’s hard to anticipate when it will be completed because investigating takes time.”

We asked Burden how crews prepare for this kind of accident.

“Being an all-hazards fire department, we prepare for all hazards. The first steps include life safety, property conservation and defense against hazards,” he said.

“We are very lucky and can only credit the pilot for that situation – for not involving another structure,” he said.

“Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family first and foremost. Hopefully, our community can eventually resume some normalcy,” Burden said.

He told us the cause is still under investigation.

“We tend not to speculate, so this investigation could take a while,” he said.

Amid investigation, mourners drawn to site of Augusta plane crash (13)

Amid investigation, mourners drawn to site of Augusta plane crash (14)Amid investigation, mourners drawn to site of Augusta plane crash (15)Amid investigation, mourners drawn to site of Augusta plane crash (16)Amid investigation, mourners drawn to site of Augusta plane crash (17)Amid investigation, mourners drawn to site of Augusta plane crash (18)

Mayor Garnett Johnson said the crash was discussed at the Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast hosted by Miracle Making Ministries.

“In particular, we are in prayer for all impacted by this morning’s plane crash near Daniel Village,” he said. “May God comfort those who mourn and give them strength. You are in our thoughts and prayers.”

Congressman Rick Allen stated, “Robin and I are praying for all involved in this morning’s heartbreaking plane crash near Daniel Field in Augusta and thank the first responders who were on the scene so quickly.”

Copyright 2024 WRDW/WAGT. All rights reserved.

Amid investigation, mourners drawn to site of Augusta plane crash (2024)


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