JACKSON, Miss. - A small plane carrying three family members broke apart in the air and crashed in northeast Mississippi on Sunday, killing everyone on board, officials said.
Witnesses reported a thunderstorm in the area when the single-engine Piper Cherokee Lance crashed near New Site, about 35 miles northeast of Tupelo. Officials did not immediately know what caused the crash.
The dead were identified as James Bartley Jr.; his wife, Terry Bartley; and their youngest daughter, Caroline Bartley, said Carter Hyneman, who shared a podiatry practice with Bartley in Columbus, Ga.
The family was flying from their vacation home in the North Carolina mountains to the University of Mississippi, where Caroline Bartley was a student, Hyneman said. Mitchell Diggs, a university spokesman, could not immediately confirm that Caroline Bartley was a student.
Debris was scattered over about half a mile in a wooded area, Prentiss County Emergency Management Director Ralph Lauderdale said. The fuselage containing the passengers plunged into the ground, and it took almost two hours to find it. A medical helicopter eventually spotted it and guided searchers to the wreckage. About 125 emergency workers from five counties aided in the search, Lauderdale said.
The seven-seat plane left Andrews, N.C., and was headed to Oxford, Miss., when it crashed about 2 p.m. Sunday.
Larry Johnson, who lives near the crash site, said a thunderstorm with lightning was in the area when he heard the plane.
Wayne Stutts, who also lives nearby, said what appeared to be wing parts and a wheel landed on his property. He said other items from inside the plane, including snack food, were scattered about.
Lauderdale said the fuselage was partially buried and crumpled.
"There was a very significant impact," he said. "They probably went from 8,000 feet to the ground."
Emergency personnel could not immediately remove the victims, and had trouble bringing equipment to the isolated site, Lauderdale said.
Jim Peters, a spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration, said the National Transportation Safety Board will investigate.
It wasn't immediately clear who was piloting the plane, but James Bartley does have a private pilot's license, according to the FAA.