Pilot Saw Trouble Shortly Before Deadly Crash

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Associated Press Release

LAKE PARK, Ga. (AP) -- Federal investigators say the pilot of a small plane told air traffic controllers that he was in trouble shortly before his small plane crashed in south Georgia, killing him.

A preliminary accident report Thursday from the National Transportation Safety Board says the pilot radioed "I'm in trouble."

Moments later, authorities say both radar and radio contact were lost, and the plane crashed in the Lake Park area on Dec. 10. The pilot had taken off from Valdosta Regional Airport, about 10 miles northwest of the Lake Park area where it went down.

The pilot, 52-year-old businessman Rick Poppell, who was the plane's lone occupant, was killed in the crash. He owned Poppell's Produce in Jesup.

The preliminary report does not indicate what caused the crash, and the investigation is continuing.

AP-WF-12-28-12 1437GMT

[UPDATE] Lake Park, GA - December 12, 2012 - On Monday evening Rick Poppell checked up on his Christmas Tree Lot here on Patterson Street. Shortly after he drove to the Valdosta Airport, boarded his plane and took off. Just minutes later he disappeared.

Michael Hovanec worked for Poppell for 11 years. He said "when we found out on Tuesday about his plane being missing I was just, it was like somebody punched me in the face."

Poppell's plane was found around 11AM on Tuesday. He had crashed just off of Old Lake Park Road in Lake Park. Ryan Hancock was sitting on his front porch when the plane crashed. He said "I mean we didn't know what it was, it sounded like somebody shot a deer."

The Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board began their investigations on Wednesday morning. Keith Holloway works for the NTSB. He said "the aircraft is actually in the process of being loaded and moved to a secure facility in the Atlanta area."

The cause of the crash is still unkown. A preliminary report could be released as soon as next week.

Associated Press Release

VALDOSTA, Ga. (AP) -- Lowndes County authorities have identified and recovered the body of a Jesup business owner whose small plane crashed in southern Georgia.

Chris Prine, Lowndes County Sheriff, says Rick Poppell, died when his plane crashed Monday night in the Lake Park area. Officials say Poppell, 52, owned Poppell's Produce, in Jesup.

Poppell left the Valdosta Regional Airport at 8:30 p.m. Monday and told officials by radio he was having some type of problem, authorities said.

The FAA had issued an alert for a missing single-engine Diamond Aircraft DA 40 in the Valdosta-Lake Park area.

Poppell was the only person on board, his body was recovered Tuesday morning. The cause of the crash is under investigation.

Lake Park is about 13 miles southeast of Valdosta and just north of the Georgia-Florida line.

AP-WF-12-11-12 2230GMT

Valdosta, GA - December 11, 2012 - A deadly plane crash in Lake Park, Georgia.

"You couldn't tell it was an airplane if you didn't know that's what it was," Lowndes County Coroner Bill Watson told Eyewitness News reporter Greg Gullberg.

A small four-seat, single engine aircraft crashed into a local swamp.

"It's like a jungle," said Watson.

The Lowndes Coroner says the pilot never had a chance.

"Nobody could have survived that," Watson said.

The Diamond Star DA 40 took off from Valdosta Regional Airport Monday night. Within ten minutes the tower lost contact and it wasn't found until late Tuesday morning. The plane crashed in the woods, just missing several homes.

"It's pretty scary you know with all the kids," said Greg Bennett, a nearby resident and owner of "The Farm House" restaurant in Lake Park. "We didn't know if he was going to try to land in our yard or something like that. So it was pretty scary for us."

The plane crashed on private property so the Sheriffs Department would not let anybody back there to see it. The wreckage is about half a mile into the woods down a dirt road.

"It's just weeds and trees and low lying brush everywhere," said Coroner Watson.

The plane had just one occupant, pilot Rick Poppell from Jessup, Georgia near Savannah. The coroner confirms he is dead.

A hearse left the scene around 3:30 pm. The coroner says the body will be taken to a Macon crime lab for testing as investigators look for any clues as to what might have caused Poppell's plane to go down.

"When our time is coming we just don't know. It's just sad," said Bennett.

The cause of the crash has not been determined at this time but weather is not being ruled out.

Lowndes County, GA - December 11, 2012 - 5:14 pm - Authorities are investigating a deadly plane crash in South Georgia.

The Lowndes County coroner describes the dense foliage as being like a jungle.

The coroner says that the plane is in pieces to the point that you wouldn't even know it was a plane at all.

The four seat aircraft had one occupant, pilot Rick Poppell, from Jessup, Georgia near Savannah, and the coroner has confirmed that he is dead.

The coroner says the body will be taken to a Macon crime lab tomorrow morning where it will be tested as investigators look for any clues as to what might have caused Poppell's plane to go down.

Lowndes County, GA, December 11, 2012, 12:06 pm - Authorities have located the plane. The pilot, Rick Poppell, has been confirmed dead. The Lowndes County coroner is on scene.

Lowndes County, GA - December 11, 2012 - 10:3 am - The FAA contacted the Lowndes County Sheriff's Office around 8 pm last night saying it had lost communication with a pilot from Jessup, GA.

They believed he'd crashed in the Lake Park area of Lowndes County.

It was a 4-seater plane, but the pilot is believed to have been the only occupant.

Police are still unsure if he crashed in water or on ground. The Sheriff's Office is not releasing the identity of the pilot at this time.

The Georgia State Patrol is also helping to try to locate the plane. There are search planes in the air and about 50 people on the ground searching.

Stay with WCTV for more information.

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