Cause of plane crash still undetermined - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Cause of plane crash still undetermined

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July 19, 2004

Worth County- Terri Willett is still in shock when she looks at her back yard and sees what used to be the wing of the small 6 passenger airplane.

"I couldn't even sleep last night. I just worried about it and you just have to be grateful that you're living."

Just a few yards from her house, the tail section, now lying where Willett's children usually play.

The Georgia State Patrol flew over the area searching for the rest of what used to be a 1987 Beechcraft Bonanza.

"Right now we're finding the airplane in a lot of pieces, and we're going around plotting all the pieces that we find and get it so we can put it back together again and see what happened," says Butch Wilson of the National Transportation Safety Board.

The pilot, 66 year old Louis Reitmeyer, his fiance 53 year old Marlena Stein, and her 14 and 18 year old daughters, Brianne and Ashton Church, all from Indiana, were headed to Lawrenceville Illinois.

"The plane originated from there and I think they had left out yesterday from Sarasota Florida," says Worth County Sheriff Freddie Tompkins.

Once they reached Worth County, Reitmeyer radioed air traffic control in Jacksonville that he was in trouble.

"But at that time we had a real bad electrical storm going on, and it rained about an inch to two inches in just a little while and the plane just basically disintegrated real high up in the air about 10,000 feet," says Tompkins .

"Yes there was weather. Did it cause this? I don't know. Not yet. It's too early," adds Wilson.

Transportation officials do say they haven't found anything out of the ordinary yet.

"It's an in-flight break up. That in itself makes it unusual, but as far as in-flight break ups go, everything is in line and where it should be," Wilson explains.

As for Willett she says she praying for the family and thanking God for the lives that He spared on the ground.

"I took my kids and we sat in the middle of the floor, and we prayed and we thanked God for just letting us live because it was really close and I know people are out there dead," she says.

Investigators will remain in Worth County at least another day collecting debris and mapping out the location of the wreckage. It could be up to a year before they determine what caused the crash.

Posted at 5;15 PM by elaine.armstrong@walb.com