Pilot Killed in N.C. Plane Crash Called Hero

Pilot Killed in N.C. Plane Crash Called Hero

News Jan 16, 2013

Jan. 16--The pilot was killed Wednesday morning when a single-engine LabCorp plane crashed into an empty field at the Mayco Bigelow Community Center on Sharpe Road in Burlington.

Around noon Wednesday, police said the pilot was David Gamble, 57, of Greensboro. No other injuries were reported.

The crash occurred about 5:45 a.m.

Residents described waking to a noise they first thought was the sound of drivers racing on Sharpe Road.

"I heard a 'V-r-o-o-o-m! V-r-o-o-o-m!'" said Deloris Burrell, who lives across from the ballfield. "The first thing I thought was, 'Why is someone racing their car at 5:30 in the morning?' "

She said she hurried from her bedroom to the living room and looked out the front door. Burrell said she saw the plane moments before it hit -- appearing to struggle to gain elevation. She said she was initially confused -- unable to tell if the aircraft was a plane or helicopter.

Burrell said there was a mighty explosion as the plane hit and burst into flames. She said the explosion lit up the ballpark and surrounding neighborhood.

Burrell and several neighbors quickly ran to the crash site to try and help survivors. There were none. Burrell said she saw no sign of the pilot.

"It just burned," she said of the wreckage. "It just engulfed and burned."

Burrell and others are hailing the pilot they'll never meet as a hero. They said they believe the plane he was piloting was experiencing engine problems and the racing noise they heard was the sound of him revving the motor as he searched for an open place to set down the aircraft.

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There are numerous houses and apartments in the area.

"I guess he was trying to find an open field," Burrell said. "I feel he saw that open space and he landed over there. He could very well have dropped any place."

Chris Verdeck, an assistant chief with the Burlington Police Department, agreed.

"I can't say he intentionally put down where he did, but it sure looks like he did," he said.

Verdeck said the plane approached the ballfield from the northwest. It struck some of the fencing at the field, but appeared to hit nothing else.

The aircraft was a single-engine turbo prop. The smell of jet fuel was evident around the crash site, which littered much of the softball field east of the community center. A large area was roped off by police tape. Investigators said the plane may have been carrying as much as 400 gallons of aircraft fuel.

Verdeck said investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board and Federal Aviation Administration were expected by mid-day. Burlington Police, Burlington Fire, members of Alamance County EMS and Rescue and LabCorp representatives were at the site, as were a number of troopers from the N.C. Highway Patrol.

Brothers Dylan and Elmore James live with their mother, Dorothy, across from the park. The brothers were getting ready for work at the time of the crash and said much the same as Burrell -- that the first they heard was the revving of a motor and assumed it was the sound of cars racing on Sharpe Road.

Dylan described the crash as, "The loudest noise I ever heard.

"It was crazy, man, just crazy," he continued.

He and Elmore and their mother were among the first to run to the crash site.

"We were hoping to pull survivors out of the rubble," Elmore said.

What they found were flames and debris, but little else.

The Jameses said had the crash happened at another time of year, there may have been more fatalities. There's a track around the park and they said it's not unusual for walkers to be out even that early.

Elmore agreed the pilot likely saved lives.

"I think he saw the houses and was trying to land somewhere else," he said.

John Ransom lives about two blocks from the crash site. He described the sound that preceded the crash the same as others.

"It sounded like the plane was in stress," Ransom said. "It sounded like he was circling, trying to find a place to land. The next thing I know, I heard a big crash."

The plane belongs to Burlington-based LabCorp, one of the largest medical-testing companies in the United States. The aircraft was headed to the MMU Airport in Morristown, N.J. The plane was carrying inter-office LabCorp mail.

Copyright 2013 - Times-News, Burlington, N.C.

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Times-News, Burlington, N.C.
Steve Huffman
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