Probe starts in crash that killed 5 on plane; federal investigators arrive in Little Rock

Alexander Lemishko of the National Transportation Safety Board gives a briefing Thursday at the Federal Aviation Administration office in Little Rock on a fatal plane crash. “Unfortunately, I don’t have a lot of facts to give you right now,” he said.
(Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Staci Vandagriff)
Alexander Lemishko of the National Transportation Safety Board gives a briefing Thursday at the Federal Aviation Administration office in Little Rock on a fatal plane crash. “Unfortunately, I don’t have a lot of facts to give you right now,” he said. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Staci Vandagriff)

Officials from the National Transportation Safety Board arrived in Little Rock on Thursday afternoon to begin their investigation into a Wednesday afternoon plane crash that killed five people.

The agents will be in Little Rock for two or three days during the fact-finding stage of the investigation, said Alexander Lemishko, an air safety investigator with the agency. He said details about what could have caused the crash were still limited.

"Unfortunately, I don't have a lot of facts to give you right now," Lemishko said at a Thursday afternoon news conference at the Federal Aviation Administration's Little Rock office.

Lemishko couldn't say how long the full investigation would take. National Transportation Safety Board spokeswoman Jennifer Gabris told The Associated Press via email that a preliminary report would probably be released in about two weeks.

What is known is that a 1986 model Beech B200 twin-engine aircraft took off around noon Wednesday from runway 18-36 at Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport/Adams Field carrying a pilot, four passengers and equipment bound for John Glenn Columbus International Airport in Ohio, Lemishko said.

The plane burned on impact, and there was very little remaining of the wreckage on the scene, he said.

Lemishko said he had viewed low-resolution surveillance footage from the airport that showed the plane taking off and then a plume of smoke rising immediately after the crash.

It was not clear whether that video would be released during the course of the investigation. Airport spokesman Shane Carter said that decision would fall to National Transportation Safety Board officials.

Investigators are considering weather as a potential factor in the crash, Lemishko said, with winds of 22-40 knots, or 25-46 mph, reported in the area at the time. He said the footage showed high winds, rain and wind-blown debris shortly after the crash.

The investigators will be conducting an in-depth study of the weather at the time that will be included in the final report.

It was not yet clear if personnel in the airport's control tower gave the pilot any warning about the weather conditions before takeoff, said Lemishko, who had not yet had a chance to interview the tower staff.

Lemishko said he also could not yet say if the airport has a wind shear warning system that would alert pilots to dangerous conditions. Such warning systems are operated by Doppler radars.

It appeared that most departures halted on Wednesday shortly before noon as the narrow band of weather passed through, according to FlightAware, a website that tracks flights.

The B200 that crashed was not publicly visible on the site, but a departure list showed no departures from 11:43 a.m. to 12:33 p.m., when five flights departed over the next 15 minutes. There were also no arrivals touching down from 11:46 a.m. to 12:25 p.m.

At 11:40 a.m. Wednesday, the National Weather Service, which had issued a wind advisory, tweeted that a line of showers and thunderstorms was crossing the metro area and could bring brief but heavy rain and winds gusting up to 40 mph.

Runway 18-36 runs north-south on the east side of the airport, and the plane crashed about a mile south of the runway, near a 3M factory.

On FlightRadar24, a website that uses data from a type of transponder found on many planes to show flight locations, a B200 could be seen lifting off from runway 18-36 in Little Rock at 11:56 a.m. on Wednesday.

The site showed the plane reaching a maximum altitude of 800 feet, with its southward path deviating to the northwest at 11:57, around the time it would have been passing over the 3M plant.

Three of the investigators were from the National Transportation Safety Board's Central Region office in Denver, while two were from the agency's Washington, D.C., office, Lemishko said. The D.C.-based agents are victim service coordinators from the Transportation Disaster Assistance Department and will be working with the families of the five men killed.

North Little Rock-based environmental consultancy firm CTEH identified the deceased as their employees -- Gunter Beaty, 23, a production safety data manager; Kyle Bennett, 36, a staffing manager, logistics; Micah Kendrick, 41, a safety supervisor; Sean Sweeney, 64, the pilot; and rapid responder Glennmarkus Walker, 32.

One person shared a post to Beaty's Facebook page following the news of the crash.

"My thoughts and prayers are with the family of [Beaty]," the post said. "You worked hard to get what you had no matter how difficult. I got to know you a little bit after high school. I remember the last time I parted ways with you, and the genuine handshake I received. I'll never forget that."

The company shared a post Thursday regarding the death of Beaty, Bennett, Kendrick, Sweeney and Walker.

"They were valuable members of our team and CTEH family," the post read. "We ask that you join us in praying for their families, friends and everyone here at CTEH during this difficult time."

Additional comments by the company can be seen under some of the victim's contact pages on the CTEH website. For instance, under Kendrick's "about" tab, the company wrote: "It is with a heavy heart that we acknowledge the passing of our colleague, Micah Kendrick. In his time with CTEH, [Kendrick] was a valuable member of our team and CTEH family."

Kendrick first joined CTEH as an environmental scientist in 2014.

Walker, a graduate of Grambling State University, joined CTEH in June of 2013 as an environmental specialist and consultant.

According to his LinkedIn profile, Walker was skilled in "quality patient care, mathematics, surgical instruments, medical terminology and leadership."

Other information on his profile suggests Walker was working as a field chemist for Heritage Environmental Services after joining the company in August of 2022.

According to Bennett's "about" tab on the CTEH website, he had "seven years of experience responding to crude oil releases, well control events, trail derailments, chemical spills and various other responses and incidents in diverse settings."

Information for this article was contributed by the Texarkana Gazette and The Associated Press.

  photo  Pulaski County Sheriff Eric Higgins takes questions Thursday during a briefing Thursday at the Federal Aviation Administration’s Little Rock office along with officials from the National Transportation Safety Board. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Staci Vandagriff)

  photo  A map showing the locatio of the crash site.