Agency contractor clears plane wreckage in Baker
BAKER — A contractor for the National Transportation Safety Board removed the last pieces of wreckage Monday afternoon from a twin-engine plane in the area of the burned-out houses where it crashed Friday, killing the pilot.
The pilot, John Fowler, 71, of Brookhaven, Miss., died from blunt-force trauma and fire and inhalational injuries, the East Baton Rouge Parish Coroner said Monday.
The manner of Fowler’s death was listed as an accident.
Baker Police Chief Mike Knaps said the NTSB contractor finished work about 1:30 p.m., allowing his officers to discontinue their control of the scene where the plane went down shortly after taking off from Baton Rouge Metro Airport en route to McComb, Miss.
Neighbors said a tarp covered the wreckage removed from the scene as the truck hauling it pulled out of the subdivision off Chemin Drive and Groom Road on Monday.
The plane, a new King Air 200, was owned by businessman Claude Penn, who had just purchased it in Austin, Texas.
The wreckage will be laid out in a large building to examine the parts in an attempt to determine the cause of the crash, Craig Hatch, an air safety investigator for the NTSB said Saturday.
The plane cut two large holes in the roof of a home on Rue Nicole, clipped a tree and crashed into the back of two homes on Rue Jennifer.
The Rue Nicole home’s roof and attic were doused with aviation fuel, Baker Assistant Fire Chief John “Bubba” Champagne said.
The crash touched off a huge fire that engulfed the plane and ignited the two Rue Jennifer homes.
“I’m surprised that the fire didn’t follow the trail of fuel back to the first house it hit,” Champagne said.
No one was at home at the Rue Jennifer homes, and a woman inside the Rue Nicole home was evacuated without injury.
Champagne said nine fire engines responded to the fires, with help coming from the Baton Rouge, Brownsfield, District 6, Central and Zachary fire departments.
“When I got there and saw what we had, I called for more manpower,” Champagne said, adding that Baker had six firefighters on duty Friday afternoon.
After firefighters made a quick check of both burning residences to make sure they were unoccupied, incident commanders made a decision to fight the flames in the house that appeared to have the most burning fuel, fighting the fire from both inside and outside the structure.
“If we had seen the roof sagging, we would have pulled them out,” Champagne said. “We wouldn’t have gone in the house if the plane had hit just one home. It would have been too dangerous.”
The salvage team recovered the plane’s flight data recorder under a wing on Sunday, he said.
East Baton Rouge Parish sheriff’s deputies, Zachary officers, Metro Airport police and State Police responded to assist Baker’s Police Department.
Knaps told the City Council during a budget meeting that the plane’s insurer has agreed to pay the police and fire departments’ overtime costs and other expenses related to the crash.
The council has been holding several meetings recently to figure out ways to cut the budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1, which will have a projected combined deficit of more than $2 million.
“What happened Friday in the city of Baker is why we cannot cut firemen,” Champagne said to begin Monday’s session.
The council is scheduled to vote on its budgets Tuesday night.
Advocate staff writer
Steven Ward contributed to this story.