27 December 2016

Missing airplane and three crash victims found in Great Smoky Mountains Tuesday, recovery of crash victims to begin Wednesday

A reconnaissance flight by the Tennessee Army National Guard located a missing single engine airplane in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park at around 4:43 pm on Tuesday, Dec. 27. The plane was found on an unnamed ridge between Cole Creek and Bearpen Hollow Branch. Paramedics were hoisted down to the crash site and confirmed that there were no survivors. The identities of the victims have not been confirmed, however, the three occupants of the plane were previously reported to be David Starling, 41, his girlfriend Kim Smith, 42, and his son Hunter Starling, 8, all of Bradford County, Florida.

According to friends of the family, the three people on board a plane
reported missing in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park were
David Starling, his 8-year-old son Hunter, and Kim Smith.
 (Photo: WBIR.com)
Ground teams searched the steep and heavily wooded area on foot Tuesday, but were unable to access some areas due to the rough terrain.

A single Blackhawk helicopter was able to fly late afternoon and spotted the wreckage along the last known flight path of the missing aircraft. Recovery efforts of the three victims will begin on Wednesday, Dec. 28.

The plane was in route to the Gatlinburg-Pigeon Forge Airport from Florida on Monday, Dec. 26 when the Cessna 182 went missing over the park at approximately 4:01 pm. Search efforts were centered around an area west-southwest of LeConte Lodge.

National Park Service officials told WBIR News that they had deployed 10 people in three crews to hike off-trail looking for the aircraft, but heavy rain and thick fog complicated search efforts and made conditions treacherous. The National Transportation Safety Board will be the lead in the investigation of the plane crash.

Tabitha Ritz Starling with son Hunter Starling.
She had asked for prayers in helping find her son,
who was with his father on the ill-fated airplane
that crashed in the Smokies. (ActionNewsJax)
Hunter Starling's mother, Tabitha Ritz Starling, had asked for prayers on Facebook when she learned the airplane hadn't arrived at its destination. "Please pray for my baby. He is missing and his dad and girlfriend also. Please pray..." she wrote. Kim Smith's son Garrett has been in Tennessee helping search for the missing plane, according to Action News Jacksonville.

Jenna Bourne of ActionNewsJax reported that David Starling's cousin said David was president of a timber company and enjoyed fishing with his son Hunter, who loves baseball and ice cream.

In a recent post on Kim Smith's Facebook page she wrote, "Beyond blessed to have this sweet, caring man in my life! He's all I want for Xmas and all I need for a lifetime because he absolutely completes me! I love you David Starling to the moon & back!"

The National Park Service worked closely with the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center, Civil Air Patrol, Federal Aviation Administration, and Tennessee Emergency Management Agency in this search effort.

(National Park Service and compiled reports)

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