EGLIN AFB — Four family members died when a twin-engine civilian propeller plane crashed Thursday morning on Eglin Air Force Base property, two miles short of the Destin-Fort Walton Beach Airport runway to which it had apparently diverted.
Limited information was available Thursday on the people who were killed in the crash. Authorities identified the pilot as Henry Nowakowski; his wife, Patsy; his sister, Carolyn, and Tom Saine. The four victims reportedly have connections to Ohio, but no detailed information on their residences or their ages was immediately available Thursday from local authorities.
Other family members were awaiting the arrival of the four people aboard the airplane at Destin Executive Airport, and the next of kin were notified there of the deaths in the crash, according to call records from the Okaloosa County Sheriff's Office.
The plane, a Beechcraft B-60 registered to Henry Leasing Company in Ottawa Lake, Michigan, left Ohio's Toledo Express Airport at 7:46 a.m.. It was scheduled to arrive at Destin Executive Airport at 10:14 a.m., according to the FlightRadar24 aircraft tracking website.
It was initially thought the pilot was the only person aboard. But witnesses at Toledo Express Airport told authorities they had seen four people, including the pilot, boarding the plane, according to Eglin spokesman Andy Bourland.
There also were early indications from the crash site that more than one person had been aboard the plane. As emergency personnel arrived and searched the scene, they found two passports, according to the Sheriff's Office call records. By shortly after 2:30 p.m., call records indicated that there were "possibly 4 souls on board."
Emergency personnel were working Thursday afternoon at the crash scene to recover the bodies, Bourland said.
FlightRadar24 shows that at some point, the Beechcraft diverted to nearby Destin-Fort Walton Beach Airport from its intended landing at Destin Executive Airport. The Federal Aviation Administration confirmed the plane crashed during what initially had been its approach to Runway 14 at Destin Executive Airport.
The plane went down under cloudy skies in a heavily wooded area on the Eglin reservation west of General Bond Boulevard. A narrow plume of smoke could be seen rising from the crash site as Air Force and civilian emergency crews scrambled across the area, sometimes in heavy rain, to get to the crash scene.
According to Sheriff's Office call records, emergency personnel initially responded to an area on Ranger Camp Road off Lewis Turner Boulevard, but subsequently went to an area near the interchange at State Roads 85 and 123 near Destin-Fort Walton Beach Airport. A helicopter located the crash site shortly before 11:30 a.m., according to call records.
By 11 a.m., emergency personnel, mostly from Eglin, had set up a staging area on the muddy, rain-soaked ground inside a fenced area near the interchange. According to call records, an Eglin firefighting crew was able to walk to the crash site and arrived shortly before 11:45 a.m. The plane was still burning when the firefighters arrived, according to Eglin spokeswoman Jasmine Porterfield.
By early Thursday afternoon, an investigator from the National Transportation Safety Board was en route to the crash site from Dallas, according to NTSB spokesman Peter Knudson. The investigator was expected to be on the scene late Thursday or early Friday morning, Knudson said.
A preliminary NTSB report on the crash, including information on air traffic control communications and other aspects of the ill-fated flight, could be released within the next couple weeks, Knudson said. It could take anywhere from 12 to 24 months for a more detailed report fully explaining the circumstances of the crash to be released, Knudson said.