Flames and smoke billow from a home in west Jackson, Miss., on Tuesday, after authorities say a small plane carrying three people crashed into the residence.
(Photo: Joe Ellis, Clarion-Ledger)
The (Jackson, Miss) Clarion-Ledger
JACKSON, Miss. -- Family members have identified a man piloting a small plane that crashed into a west Jackson home Tuesday, killing him and his two passengers.
The single-engine aircraft struck the home of Loretta and Roosevelt Jamison, near the Jackson Zoo, shortly after 5 p.m. when it experienced engine trouble minutes after leaving nearby Hawkins Field.
Loretta Jamison, who was in the home, escaped by jumping out a window, her relatives said. Roosevelt Jamison wasn't home at the time.
Family members of the pilot, John Tilton, confirmed his death. "We just don't have anything to say right now," a male family member answering the phone at Tilton's home said.
Hinds County Coroner Sharon Grisham-Stewart remained at the scene late Tuesday. The identities of the other two passengers had not been released late Tuesday, but Grisham-Stewart said at the scene that the three bodies were burned beyond recognition.
The plane is registered to Superior Pallet Co. of Flowood, Miss. Its president is Roger Latham; his wife Michele is vice president of the company. Neither was aboard the plane.
"It was a blast of fire and smoke," said Bill Hankins, who lives a block from the crash site and witnessed the plane going down.
"It sounded just like a bomb went off, it descended so fast," Hankins said. "It came down so low, I knew he couldn't make it (back to Hawkins Field) because he was so low over the trees.
"I heard a sound like it ran out of gas, and it was right over my house. All of a sudden, it just started descending, about four houses away from me, and it got real low almost at the top of the trees, then it fell into a house," Hankins said.
The plane reportedly was headed to the John Bell Williams airport near Raymond for a Federal Aviation Administration-sponsored safety class. Airport operator Michelle Jackson said early Tuesday evening that the facility was hosting the class, but that she wasn't expecting the arrival of any planes from Hawkins Field.
Michele Latham and her daughter Emily arrived at the crash scene after receiving a call from Roger Latham. Roger Latham was supposed to be on the plane, Emily Latham said, "but he went hunting, thank God."
Emily Latham said Tilton was a pilot used by the family. She said she didn't know Tilton well but he had military experience. "He's a good guy," she said.
FAA investigators said earlier in the evening that it left Hawkins Field headed to Raymond. "All I know is one of our base customers crashed just after he took off," said Aero Jackson employee Clarence Chaffin. Aero Jackson operates out of Hawkins Field.
"He told people here he was just going to fly around and come back. I don't know his name, but I've seen him around here."
"They can't find either of them," Emily Latham said of the other two people on the plane. "They can't find anybody."
She did not tell reporters the names of the two passengers.
The airplane was a 1972 Piper PA-32 Cherokee six, a single-prop engine plane that seats six people. The model has been produced since the 1960s, and is a popular plane for charters and cargo operations.
It dropped from the sky as many in the area watched. It was not yet dark. Witnesses reported a loud explosion, then huge flames and masses of smoke as the home burned to the ground.
"A lot of kids were playing in the lot next to my house. I heard someone say, 'It's a plane about to fall in your house,' " Bill Hankins said.
National Transportation Safety Board officials took over the crash's investigation several hours after it occurred.
Jackson Airport Authority officials said the airplane departed Hawkins Field at about 5:10 p.m. "for a routine flight operation.
"Shortly after takeoff, the pilot of the aircraft requested permission from air traffic control at Hawkins Field tower to return to the airport," the authority said in a statement. "The aircraft was unable to return to the airport and crashed into a residential neighborhood in the city of Jackson."
Brenda Williams, Loretta Jamison's niece, stood with other relatives near the crash site. "Grandmama called me screaming. It's a blessing just that she lived," Williams, who came to the scene following the call from her grandmother, said of Jamison.
But it's believed that three dogs at the house perished; family members were unable to locate them. The lots on either side of the home are vacant, Williams said.
"Everything there is gone," Williams said.
Jamison was taken to the University of Mississippi Medical Center and was in good condition late Tuesday. She is employed at the Byram Learning Center as a cook, one of her relatives said.
Wanda Quon, principal at Pecan Park Elementary near where the plane crashed, was at work when it happened.
"We had an after-school program going on. We had kids there," Quon said.
"We heard the explosion, and it shook the building," Quon said. "My librarian was there, and her first thought was, what if a plane crashed. She said she heard a sputtering noise before it happened. We went outside, and you could see smoke. You could see the flames."
Contributing: Clarion-Ledger reporters Ruth Ingram, Dustin Barnes, Emily Lane, Geoff Pender and Terricha Bradley-Phillips