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Atlanta surgeon identified as pilot killed in crash

Authorities continue investigation

POSTED: December 4, 2013 4:00 p.m.
Nat Gurley DCN regional staff/

Dawson County Sheriff’s Maj. Tony Wooten, left, and of Billy Thurmond, the county’s emergency management agency director, talk with media near the plane crash site Monday night.

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Authorities Wednesday afternoon identified the pilot in Monday night's fatal plane crash in Dawson County as John H. Culbertson, Jr. of Atlanta. 

Dawson County Sheriff's Maj. Tony Wooten said dental and medical records were used to positively identify the 62-year-old, a plastic surgeon and professor at Emory School of Medicine.

Culbertson died when his single-engine Piper Malibu PA-46 crashed near Ga. 400 Monday night.

Aviation officials said he was en route to Peachtree Dekalb airport in Chamblee from Morristown, N.J., Municipal Airport when the aircraft came down near 1549 Auraria Road before 7:30 p.m.

He was alone aboard the plane, according to Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman Kathleen Bergen.

The National Transportation Safety Board held a press conference at 5 p.m. Tuesday.

"We cannot release any information on the pilot as of this time," said Heidi Moats of the National Transportation and Safety Bureau during the conference. "However, we can give some details as to the nature of the crash."

According to Moats, who is the active investigator in charge, the plane left Morristown, N.J. around 4:30 p.m. on Dec. 2 using an instrument flight rules flight plan, meaning the pilot must meticulously evaluate weather and creates a very detailed flight plan based around specific instrument departure.

The plane lost radar and radio contact at around 7:15 p.m. later that day. The wreckage was located a short time later in a heavily wooded area in Dawson County off of Auraria Road, off Ga. 400.

Debris was located in a 1,000 yard spread around the crash scene.

The FAA will provide the aircraft registration after local authorities confirm the pilot's information, though Bergen said the aircraft is registered to a Georgia entity.

Dawson County Emergency Management Agency Director Billy Thurmond said authorities were notified by the FAA that a distress call had been made from an aircraft in the area about 7:20 p.m. Monday, shortly after air traffic controllers lost contact with the flight.

Several residents in the area also called the 911 center with reports that a plane may have crashed nearby, according to Dawson County Sheriff Billy Carlisle.

"One man said he heard the plane sound like it lost power before he thought it crashed," he said.

Within minutes, first responders from Dawson, Forsyth and Lumpkin counties arrived and shut down Auraria Road.

Wooten said debris was scattered along the road. The plane's fuselage was found a short time later in a wooded area behind a home.

"Officers arrived, found the debris in the roadway that was consistent with an airplane crash and a search and rescue mission began," he said.

The Georgia State Patrol and the Department of Natural Resources also assisted in the search.

Authorities remained on site throughout the night and into Tuesday to secure the scene.

Currently, the NTSB is working on-scene and has collected all pieces of the plane to try to reconstruct the vehicle to determine the cause of the crash. Weather may have been a factor, according to Moats.

The NTSB is estimating about one week to prepare a detailed report of the incident.



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