HART COUNTY, Ga. (WSPA) – Recovery crews have been unable to retrieve the body of the pilot who crashed into a lake in Georgia on Saturday, despite knowing exactly where the plane is located.
“We have exhausted all of our local resources within the area,” said Capt. Chris Carroll of the Hart County Sheriff’s Office.
The pilot and the plane, a Beech BEFF aircraft, were “on an IFR flight plan,” according to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), meaning the pilot was operating the small plane under instrument flight rules — commonly used when conditions are less than ideal for operating a plane using visual cues.
The plane had departed from Punta Gorda, Florida, on Saturday morning before crashing into Lake Hartwell, on the border of Georgia and South Carolina.
Divers located the plane Saturday afternoon tangled in tree branches 120 feet underwater.
“It just so happened it’s in one of the deepest parts of the lake,” said Hart County Sheriff Mike Cleveland. “The plane is in the trees. I’ve been told the plane flipped over. The top is on the bottom. The doors to the plane are jammed so we’re not able to retrieve the body out of the plane.”
“Divers were able to go down and sent the ROV [remote-operated vehicle] back down,” added Carroll. “They were able to push the ROV into the rear window of the plane where it can be driven through the front to try to look around in the cockpit area. At that time was when we were able to determine there was a person in the plane.”
Cleveland said the NTSB has given the county permission to lift the plane so they can remove the pilot’s body.
Carroll said the sheriff’s office is considering bringing a crane or airbags to move the aircraft to a more accessible location.
“Once it’s lifted, we’ll have to move it to a shallow area to get the body out of it,” he said.
The NTSB told Nexstar’s WSPA that there is no time frame for the recovery of the aircraft. A spokesperson said the agency “is working with a salvage company and the insurance company on recovery efforts.”
Right now, the investigation is still in the “fact-gathering stage,” the NTSB said. A spokesperson said the typical investigation could take anywhere from 12-24 months to “complete and determine cause.”
A preliminary report will be released in the coming weeks.