ELIZABETHTON — An investigation into what caused a weekend plane crash in Carter County that claimed the lives of five ministers continued Monday.
At a news conference held at the Elizabethton Municipal Airport, authorities released the names of the victims, starting with the man believed to be piloting the aircraft.
Authorities said Victor James Osborne, of Morristown, was flying the plane when it crashed. He and two others — Leon Rosko, of Sevierville, and Randall W. Walp, of Hixon — reportedly had flown into the Elizabethton airport in the 1987 single-engine Beech Bonanza around 10 a.m. Saturday.
There, the men picked up two others — Gerald T. Booth, of Unicoi County, and Craig M. Clark, of Elizabethton — for the next leg of their journey.
Around 10:30 a.m., the plane took off, reportedly bound for Virginia Highlands Airport near Abingdon, Va., where the Jehovah’s Witnesses ministers apparently were supposed to be meeting with congregation members from Lebanon, Va., to discuss building a new church there.
Witnesses reported the plane had a “long takeoff roll,” meaning it did not go airborne until it had traveled about three-quarters of the length of the runway, according to Tim Monville, of the National Transportation Safety Board.
A resident near the airport told authorities he did not notice any strange noises coming from the plane as it flew over his home.
Shortly after takeoff, though, the aircraft crashed into up-sloping terrain on Holston Mountain in a remote area of the Cherokee National Forest.
“The aircraft contacted trees at about 3,400 feet,” Monville said. “It went through the trees and separated some parts of the aircraft. The vast majority of the aircraft was consumed by the post-crash fire.”
According to authorities, the crash site was “several hundred yards” from the point where the plane first made contact with trees.
Monville said officials have done a “cursory examination of the engine,“ but would not comment on if the engine was experiencing power problems at the point of impact. He did say, however, that air traffic control received no calls from the aircraft to report a problem prior to its crashing.
Members of the NTSB and Federal Aviation Administration are continuing to search for the cause of the fiery crash.
“We’re looking at absolutely everything,” said Paul Jones, of the FAA.
“With this type of investigation, you’re trying to determine what it isn’t. Then you can rule those things out and it’s one less thing to have to look at.”
As of Monday evening, authorities had ruled out any kind of flight control malfunction, noting there was no problem with the flight controls that they could determine.
According to Monville, authorities were looking into other possible causes, including potential issues with weight and balance, whether there was engine trouble, which runway was used for takeoff and if there were any adverse weather conditions.
“We’ll do our best to get to the facts for my agency to determine a cause,” Monville said. “But fire ruins a lot of information. We lost a lot of data.”
The remaining wreckage from the crash will be removed from the forest, likely by air, and taken to a secure location for further examination, Monville said.
Authorities also have requested pilot records as well as the plane’s maintenance records.
The bodies of all five victims were recovered from the wreckage Sunday evening and have been sent to the East Tennessee State University Quillen College of Medicine where autopsies will be performed, authorities said.
NTSB officials said it could be anywhere from six to nine months before their investigation into the crash is complete and a factual report is released.