LOWNDES CO., GA (WALB) - Federal Aviation Administration investigators are working to find out why a plane crashed into a swamp in Lowndes County Monday night. The Jesup pilot was killed when his Diamond DA-40 went down in Lake Park minutes after taking off from the Valdosta Airport.
The search for the plane wreckage started around 8:00 Monday night and continued today. More than 50 first responders tracked through the wooded terrain in Lake Park looking for any sign of Jesup native Rick Poppell and his single engine airplane.
"It's real thick back here, just dirt roads and thick, thick woods, I think if a plane crashed it'd be pretty hard to find back here," said Brian Findley, who lives nearby.
Just before noon Tuesday, a GSP helicopter crew spotted the plane off Old Lake Park Road. The Lowndes County Coroner was called to the scene shortly after. Poppell did not survive the crash.
"It's just a crash scene and nobody could have survived that," said Coroner Bill Watson.
Now investigators have not allowed us to go back there but what we do know is that the plane and his body were found about a half a mile down this driveway. His body was found next to a cow pen.
Poppell left the Valdosta Airport around 7:40 Monday night. He told air traffic control he was having problems shortly after takeoff but they lost contact with him around 8:00.
"We've worked several aircraft crashes and this is pretty devastating," said Lowndes County Sheriff Chris Prine.
Prine says the foggy weather last night made for dangerous flying conditions. It even halted their helicopter search efforts until this morning. Until FAA officials complete their investigation, we will not know the cause of the crash.
FAA and NTSB officials from Virginia arrived on scene late today and have started their investigation. Poppell's body will be transported to the GBI crime lab in Macon Wednesday for an autopsy.
Governor Nathan Deal released this statement:
"Sandra and I had the great pleasure this holiday season of meeting Rick and his family when they donated the Christmas trees for the Governor's Mansion. We are shocked and saddened by this tragedy. We will think of him fondly every time we return home and see the beautiful trees that he so generously gave to the people of Georgia. We send our deepest condolences to the Poppell family, and we mourn this loss."