UPDATE | NTSB reveals possible cause of deadly Swainsboro plane crash

By  | 

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

EMANUEL COUNTY, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) -- The NTSB has released a preliminary report on the Swainsboro skydiving plane crash that killed four people and injured another.

The report says no flight plan was filed for the flight of the Cessna 182A, N4785D, on August 25th.

The parachute rigger on the ground says the pilot noticed they were missing a fuel cap while filling up the plane. He asked the rigger to see if maintenance at the airport had a spare.

After consulting with airport officials, the pilot allegedly was told to cover the area with "fuel cell tape".

A witness near the airport says they saw the plane take off and climb about 150 ft over the runway when the engine stopped running. They say the wings began to "rock" before the plane shot downward and hit the ground, catching fire.

Examination of the accident site revealed that the airplane came to rest 2,000 feet from the runway where it took off.

William Middlebrooks is the sole survivor of the crash.

Click here to see the full report. 

Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2018
News 12 at 11

EMANUEL COUNTY, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) -- Friends and family grieve the loss of four men on board a plane that crashed over the weekend.

A man from Augusta is also at a loss. Isaac Brown says it was a once in a lifetime experience he will never forget. He recalls a Father's Day gift from his wife.

"I was up there looking down over the horizon and everything, it was a great feeling."

Mr. Brown had a chance to spend the day with some special people. Justin Duff was his tandem partner the day he made a skydiving jump.

William Middlebrooks was there too.

"From the start when I got my harness put on, I mean, we were just laughing, you know, talking about our families, wives, kids. Me and Justin, we had good conversations," Mr. Brown remembers.

Isaac says he and Justin bonded over their love of family and the outdoors. Duff and Middlebrooks were on board the 1958 Cessna that crashed over the weekend.

As tragic as the crash was, Isaac said people like Justin would want him to keep diving.

"From me getting to know those guys, it almost makes me want to do it more."

Mr. Brown says he plans to go out again to honor the memory of the four skydivers.

William Middlebrooks remains in fair condition, doctors say he stood up for the first time today since he's been in the hospital.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

EMANUEL COUNTY, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) – The survivor of the skydiving plane crash over the weekend continues to recover.

News 12 was told Tuesday morning that William Middlebrooks' condition has been upgraded to fair from serious.

Continue to check back for updates.

Monday, August 27, 2018
(News 12 First at 5 / News 12 at 6 O’Clock / NBC 26 at 7)

EMANUEL COUNTY, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) – At last check, investigators are telling News 12 the crash seems to have been caused by mechanical problems. But it’s still unclear what ultimately brought the small plane down

Scorched earth is all that remains at the crash site Monday as crews have cleared the wreckage. There are three categories that factor into what led to the crash – human, machine and environment.

“Human” refers to any human error that could have been made. “Machine” would mean a maintenance and mechanical problem. Finally, anything related to climate, wind or weather falls under “environment”. The federal investigation will look into all those options.

Based on beginning observations by law enforcement, the plane was trying to make an emergency landing because of engine issues. People nearby also say they heard the engine sputter.

The Coroner’s Office says they're working too.

“From our standpoint, once the individuals are identified we can then move forward from having them moved from Savannah to where they can be taken care of,” explained coroner Jeffrey Peebles.

All the passengers on the plane have been identified, but those identities have not all been matched up to a body yet.

Looking through pictures of these five men you see them hanging from airplanes and jumping from planes. Family members are commenting, saying their loved ones died doing what they loved to do.

For some, it was a hobby, and for others, it was a job they loved.

Andrew Swenson was 23-year-old from South Daytona Beach.

Justin Duff was the senior rigger and skydiving instructor at The Jumping Place skydiving center. He leaves behind a wife and three kids in Statesboro.

Chris Eldridge was a 42-year-old from Rincon, Georgia.

Alex Bahrtsevich was a longtime U.S. Army Golden Knight who skydived all the time. He's originally from Belarus.

The one person who survived the crash, William Middlebrook, is an Augusta native. He's a Hephzibah High School grad.

News 12 spoke to his childhood friend, who is shocked and grateful, that his friend survived this crash.

“I don't know what I would've done if I were to lose my best friend. I feel really sorry for the families who lost people who died in the plane crash,” said Tavon Banks.

Banks says his friend just started jumping in the past couple of years, even convincing him to try once. This was the latest of hundreds of flights for Middlebrook.

“I know it's a dangerous sport, but he loves it. I don't know what this means for him when he gets better. If he would consider jumping again.”

Middlebrook is currently in serious condition at the hospital.

The company, The Jumping Place, has sent out a statement about the crash, and everyone on board. It reads as follows:

On August 25, 2018, around 2:00 PM ET, the world lost four incredible people. We have all lost loved ones in an incredible tragedy occurred that will remain with all of us forever. My words cannot express the emotions that all of us that are affected are feeling. Please keep those who are survived by the ones we’ve lost in your thoughts and be respectful of all they are going through.

N4785D took off for the fifth skydiving load of the day just after 2 PM ET and crashed shortly after take off. The accident is currently being investigated by both the NTSB and the FAA and we hope to get and disseminate information as it’s being received. We will be sharing all the information as it comes in.

During this time we have tried to contact families, loved ones, and anyone affected by this tragedy. A lot of amazing people are going through an indescribable time and I implore everyone to try to be respectful of their space and privacy. Reach out if you're a loved one, be there for people in their time of need. If you are just seeking information please seek me out directly, Casey, 813-312-6008.

We will also be coordinating with families and inform people of funeral arrangements and all other pertinent information.

I was with all five people on board the plane moments before take off. Skydivers in general love skydiving. This group was an exemplification of that feeling. Shortly after taking off for the fifth time on Saturday, the airplane crashed and four members of our skydiving family were no longer with us. I was on scene approximately 1-2 minutes after I saw smoke at the end of the runway. Before I arrived, Dean Gowen, was the first on the scene. With assistance from other members of the local community, Dean put himself in harm's way and pulled two of the people on board from the aircraft as it caught fire. These brave men saved William Middlebrooks’ life. First responders were on the scene immediately and all members of the community were incredible.

Four outstanding individuals were attempting to do something they loved. Those four members of our family will live with all of us in both our memory and spirit forever. Personally, my experience in life and 20 plus years of skydiving experience have not prepared me or anyone for this. I have no guidebook on how to handle a tragedy like this. These are my brothers, I skydive with them, I love them. All I can think of is the families and I again implore everyone out there in the media and social media world to please be respectful to the families and friends of these amazing people.

If anyone directly involved with the families would like to call and chat or do anything I am trying to make myself available to as many people as possible. I was there with them as they boarded the aircraft and all of the guys were so happy. I don’t know what I can say or do to help, but if you just need someone to talk to or ask questions to, I will do anything I can. (Also, if you would like me to include any information that’s not here, please call me).

Andrew (Drew) Swenson - Pilot
Drew was a pilot and skydiver with 187 skydives. Just before take-off of the last load the two of us talked about some skydivers that we both know from Deland, FL. He mentioned his girlfriend and talked about how excited he was to fly for the Airlines. I’ve heard from many friends in the close-knit skydiving world that Drew was awesome as a person and skydiver. He was smiling when I saw him taxi away, and he truly had to love flying.

Aliaksandr “Alex” Bahrytsevich
I’ve known Alex for seven years and was so excited to see him and give him a giant hug when I arrived at the airport. He was fun jumping with William because that’s how much he loved skydiving. On his weekend off from skydiving professionally, he wanted to skydive. Here is the statement from the US ARMY Golden Knights parachute team, which Alex was a member of for the last four years. Alex had thousands of skydives and still seemed to love every moment of it.
US Army Golden Knights
on Sunday
"It is with heavy hearts and great sadness that the US Army Parachute Team announces the recent death of SSG Aliaksandr “Alex” Bahrytsevich. SSG Bahrytsevich, 31 years of age, was killed on Saturday, 25 August 2018, in a small plane crash while off duty in Swainsboro, Georgia. Alex was extremely passionate about the sport of skydiving and always sought opportunities to coach and mentor other members of the team. Originally from Belarus, Alex served the US Army with distinction and pride. He served most recently as a demonstrator on the Golden Knights Black Demonstration Team. Alex is survived by his mother, Nattallia, and father, Mikhail. We ask for respect and privacy for the family during this time of sorrow and grief. Funeral arrangements and memorial ceremony information will be released later this week.”

Christopher Eldridge
Chris was so excited to be back in skydiving. When Chris first came to skydive he wanted to do Solo AFF Skydiving because he’s always been fascinated with it. He was a ball of happiness and truly loved the jumps he did with us. He has three children that are survived, they meant everything to him. He was a tremendous father to his children that he mentioned constantly. He was truly a great man, father, and companion for those that are still here. Chris was on his sixth solo skydive.

Justin Duff
Loved to jump out of, off of, everything. Justin loved doing tandems, loved AFF, and just loved the sport. He is survived by his wife Monika, who is pregnant, and their three lovely children. Monika wanted to share this,
“Yesterday, my husband, Justin Duff, died in a bad plane crash. Our children lost their daddy. We loved him very much and our hearts are broken. Thank you for all of the messages, phone calls and visits. The love you are showing us right now means a lot to us. He meant the world to us. Please keep my children and I in your prayers. The outpouring of your love for Justin Duff and for us is comforting during the worst time of our lives.”

William Middlebrooks is currently alive in critical condition at Augusta University Hospital in the traumatic ICU. His mother and Will told me that they are encouraging guest to come to visit. If you know Will and would like to visit, please reach out to me. He’s suffered a number of lacerations to his internal organs and shattered a few bones, but he is coherent and in tremendous spirits. I cannot thank those men, who were first on the scene for pulling him from the airplane, enough.

I am attempting to gather more information and stay in contact with as many people as possible. If you want more information regarding service arrangements or if there is anything you can do to assist families, I will forward all information to the people involved.

I will also be contacting families and sharing more information on the crash and the people involved as we get it in a respectful way. If want me to add anything, please contact me directly.

-Casey Kloess-Finley

EMANUEL COUNTY, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) -- The Emanuel County Coroner has identified the victims of the crash.

42-year-old Justin Duff, 31-year-old Aliaksander Bahrytsevich, 23-year-old Andrew Swenson and 42-year-old Chris Eldridge all died in the crash Saturday.

Duff was from Statesboro, Bahrytsevich was from Raeford, North Carolina, Swenson was from South Daytona Beach, Florida, and Eldridge was from Rincon, Georgia.

The sole survivor of the crash, William Middlebrooks, is now listed as seriously injured, but not critical.

Stay with News 12 for the latest developments on this story.

Sunday, August 26, 2018
(News 12 at 11)

EMANUEL COUNTY, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT)-- Officials confirm the single survivor of the deadly skydiving plane crash is in critical condition. The four plane passengers who died are scheduled for an autopsy on Monday.

One full day after CESSNA 182A crashed at Georgia East Regional Airport, National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is removing it and restructuring
the deadly scene.

A small single sheet of paper rested in the Emanuel County Sheriff's hand during Saturday's press conference. The sheet weighed heavy because of the loss that came along with it.

"Sad day I tell you," said Sheriff Stephens as he looked down. He continued, "It's sad that it happened so close to emergency services
but still wound up such a terrible tragedy because so much of it was actually hopeless."

Five people were on board ready to skydive with the Jumping Place. But instead, their plane took a dive and went up in flames minutes after take off. The fire chief explained within one to two minutes the blaze swallowed four passengers.

"I wouldn't think they would have much more than that." The chief said, "I mean, just a fire that hot, of that nature, that kind of fuel burns rapidly."

On board the Jumping Place plane was long time US Army Golden Knights SSG Aliaksandr "Alex" Bahrytsevich. He was a 31-year-old
from Belarus. The US Army confirmed in a Sunday morning statement that Alex was off duty at the time.

"This is the worst crash, as far as fatalities are concerned with aircrafts, in my 34 years as Sheriff of Emanuel County."

The scene today is marked by a wreath on the fence and NTSB investigators mapping out the wreckage. A wreck no one
expected because moments before it, officials heard the skydiving class over the scanner.

"Everything seemed to be going normal, coaching the students how to do it," the sheriff said.

When things took a plunge, fire crews were on scene within minutes, but were only able to pull two people out. Now, only one is
left fighting for his life.

Emanuel County Coroner Peebles told News 12 two of the victims' bodies are unidentifiable. All four victims will be sent to the lab Monday morning for an autopsy.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

1:28 p.m.

The United States Army Golden Knights confirmed a member of the US Army Parachute team was among one of the passengers killed in a plane crash in Swainsboro, Ga. on Saturday afternoon.

In a Facebook post, they said "It is with heavy hearts and great sadness that the US Army Parachute Team announces the recent death of SSG Aliaksandr “Alex” Bahrytsevich,"

They said he was just 31 years old, and was passionate about skydiving and was a mentor to other members of the parachute team. They also mentioned he was from Belarus originally.

They said he was a demonstrator with the Golden Knights Black Demonstration Team and is survived by his mother, Nattallia, and father, Mikhail.

Emanuel County Coroner Randy Love told News 12 all four plane crash victims will be taken for an autopsy on Monday.

The only survivor on board, William Middlebrooks, is fighting for his life at Augusta University Medical Center. Officials say he is in critical condition.

Saturday, August 25, 2018
(News 12 at 11)

EMANUEL COUNTY, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT)-- A skydiving plane carrying five people crashed in Swainsboro this afternoon. Four people are left dead and one is still in the hospital. Officials say it crashed minutes after takeoff, then went up in flames.

As the sun dips down on the Swainsboro Golf Club, it was anything but a normal day on the course for Brandon Barnes.

"Me and my buddy was going to hole number one and we see the plane take off." Barnes continued, "We got to the end of the row of, heard a big ole bang."

The bang was the Cessna 182A crashing at East Georgia Regional Airport. A skydiving plane from a company in Statesboro.

"We got one guy over the fence, gave him the fire extinguisher, and pulled two people out of the plane."

Officials say it was a skydiving instructor and four students going out for a lesson, four of five were killed in the crash. Emmanuel County Sheriff Stephens said in a Saturday night press conference it was one of the worst he's ever seen.

"This is the worst crash, as far as fatalities are concerned with aircrafts, in my 34 years as Sheriff of Emanuel County."

The sheriff confirms the last victim is in Augusta, at a hospital, but his condition is still unknown.

An investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) arrived on scene shortly after. As he took pictures, it started the beginning of NTSB's investigation as for the cause of the crash. But NTSB reps say a preliminary report will not be available for at least 7 to 10 days.

But through all the wreckage-- it's victims and their families-- is what the mayor, the fire chief and sheriff are thinking about the most.

Sheriff Stephens said, "It effects so many people. So many children. So many mothers. So many fathers, sons, brothers, sisters--sad day, sad day."

7:18 p.m.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

EMANUEL COUNTY, Ga.(WRDW/WAGT)-- The Emanuel County Sheriff says four of five people who were on board the plane are dead, and the condition of the fifth passenger is still unknown.

In a Saturday evening press conference, ECSO said it is having a difficult time notifying families of the plane passengers because many of them did not live locally. Adding, one of the four people was from overseas.

Sheriff J Tyson Stephens said, "This is the worst crash, as far as fatalities, that I've seen as Sheriff for 34 years in Emanuel County."

This is a developing story. News 12 will keep you updated.

2:08 p.m.

EMANUEL COUNTY, Ga, (WRDW/WAGT)-- Investigators say a plane carrying five people crashed at Emanuel County Airport. The Coroner tells us they are on scene.

The Swainsboro Police and Emanuel County Sheriff's Office are at the airport, working to figure out what happened.

This is a developing story, we are working to find out more information. A News 12 crew is headed to the scene.