The body of a Blountville helicopter pilot who crashed late Friday night into South Holston Lake was recovered Monday afternoon.
The Virginia State Police reports Bill R. Starnes, 64, was located in approximately 80 feet of water at 3 p.m. Starnes was found about 100 yards from the helicopter wreckage.
Starnes was piloting a Bell helicopter owned and operated by the Food City grocery story chain. He was the lone occupant of the helicopter when it crashed upside down at approximately 10: 30 Friday night. He had just taken off from the back yard of a home owned by Steve Smith, president and chief executive officer of Abingdon-based K-VA-T Inc..
Starnes was ferrying six passengers from Bristol Motor Speedway to Smith's residence on the Washington County, Va., side of South Holston Lake. The Virginia State Police Search and Recovery Team was joined on the lake by members of the Sullivan County, Tenn., Sheriff's Office dive team.
The helicopter broke apart upon impact with the water, with the Virginia State Police reporting it is still completely submerged. Retrieval of the wreckage is underway on that portion of the lake, where depths vary from 25 feet to more than 80 feet.
The Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board are on scene. As of Monday afternoon the cause remained under investigation.
A Food City press release calls Starnes an extremely experienced military and civilian pilot, noting that the company is mourning the loss of a beloved friend and team member.
"Bill was a great friend, a fiercely loyal associate, an expert pilot and a devoted husband and family man," Food City President and CEO Smith said in the release. "Our hearts are broken and we are saddened beyond words by this tragedy. The effects are felt throughout our entire Food City Family, who are continually in thought and prayer for his wife and family."