FAA probes plane crash killing 5 Jehovah's Witness ministers
By Associated Press
Published on: 09/04/07
ELIZABETHTON, Tenn. — The man waiting at a Virginia airport for five Jehovah's Witness ministers knew something was wrong when they did not show up at the appointed time.
William Turpen said he spoke with Gerald "Jerry" Booth of Elizabethton at 9:30 a.m. Saturday as Booth was about to load the plane that should have carried him to the Virginia Highlands Airport in less than an hour.
Instead the single-engine Beech Bonanza crashed on Holston Mountain in the Cherokee National Forest shortly after leaving Elizabethton.
Craig Clark, of Elizabethton; Randall Walp, of Chattanooga; Victor "Jim" Osborne, of Morristown; Leon Rosko, of Sevierville; and Booth, of Unicoi, all were killed in the crash, Turpen said.
The men were members of a regional committee that makes decisions regarding building projects and had been on their way to meet with Turpen's Lebanon, Va. congregation to discuss building a new Kingdom Hall there.
Turpen said a pilot at the Virginia airport helped him contact the Federal Aviation Authority, but without a tail number or even the name of the pilot it was hard to get help.
"We couldn't tell the FAA here he is, or there he was," Turpen said. "All we knew was we had talked to one of the passengers 45 minutes out when he was about to get on the plane."
Also, Osborne, the pilot, had not filed a flight plan, something that FAA spokeswoman Kathleen Bergen said is not uncommon for small private planes.
After many more calls over a number of hours, Turpen had gathered enough information to initiate a search.
"By that time we had all the cell phone numbers of all the passengers that we'd been calling for hours with no answer," he said.
At around 3 p.m. the Carter County Sheriff's Office dispatched the Wings Air Rescue to search the area by air, and a crew spotted the wreckage shortly before dark. Rescuers had to use a bulldozer to clear a path to the remote crash site, and rescue teams did not reach the site until Sunday morning.
A representative of the sheriff's office said Sheriff Chris Mathes and other local officials were still at the crash scene on Monday. Mathes was expected to make a statement on Tuesday.
Turpen said once he knew something was wrong he contacted ministers in each of the five congregations to go to the homes of the men's families and offer them support while they awaited news of the plane's fate.
"All five men knew each other very well, and their families knew each other because they had worked together for many years," he said.
"It's a tragedy, but they have the support of their commentates and a strong faith in the resurrection hope. They are dealing with it maybe better than most because of that hope," Turpen said.
The Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board are investigating the accident.