Wreckage from a small aircraft that crashed into the Red River Thursday was brought to the surface late Saturday night by professional divers in coordination with a slew of local and federal law enforcement agencies.
In the latest update on the Bossier Parish Sheriff’s Office Facebook page, “The process is tedious and very methodical in order to bring the aircraft to the surface in an efficient and respectful manner.”
The Caddo Parish Coroner is on the scene to recover any remains found in the wreckage. Once the remains are removed, the National Transportation Safety Board will take custody of the aircraft for its investigation into the cause of the crash.
Specialized divers worked all afternoon and well into the night, placing straps around the downed aircraft and using a crane to secure the wreckage and bring it to the surface.
“Crews have been out here all day, and the process has been tedious and methodical in order to provide a safe and respectful recovery of aircraft and the crew,” according to a post on the Bossier Parish Sheriff’s Office Facebook page.
Updates on the Bossier Parish Sheriff’s Facebook page list all the agencies assisting in the recovery effort, and note that “family members and loved ones have been patiently waiting on the river bank all day, and crews have been tirelessly working to bring them answers soonest.”
Divers have been in the water since around 10 a.m. attempting to assess the situation the cold, murky, fast-moving currents.
“We’ve been ready to do something, but we’ve had trouble with the actual diving and getting down to securing the airplane to where we can get the airplane out,” Caddo Parish Steve Prator said in a media briefing early Saturday afternoon. “The water’s extremely cold, and it’s extremely fast, and the professional divers that have come up from South Louisiana that were hired, they’re even having trouble. So it’s presented a lot of problems.”
“It’s gonna be a slow process,” Bossier Sheriff Julian Whittington added. “Obviously, it’s a dangerous situation, and they’re methodical about it. And so it’s gonna be a while.”
Both sheriffs noted that they are keeping in mind that family and friends of the men believed to have been on the plane are waiting on the banks of the river dealing with the loss of their loved ones as recovery efforts continue.
“We’re here, and we’re not gonna stop ’til we get ’em recovered, but it’s gonna take some time.”
Among those friends and family watching and waiting Saturday was Eric Hatfield.
“Ricky Lennard lived every day to the fullest,” said Hatfield. “Scott Hollis is just docile. He’s kind. I don’t think he knows a stranger. Nor does he have an enemy. He just was a good person.”
“Just two great men that have done great things in business, that loved life, loved their families and loved what they did,” Hatfield added.
In a video posted to the Bossier Parish Sheriff’s Office Facebook page, Lt. Bill Davis says the first diver of a four-man specialized crew from Morgan City entered the water just before 10 a.m. to assess the situation.
Multiple sources and FAA records indicate the owner of the small plane, Richard Lennard, and his friend Scott Hollis were on board and presumed killed in the crash.
A barge carrying the commercial divers and their equipment from Morgan City left the Caddo Sheriff’s Office Marine Unit at the Stoner Boat Launch around 7 a.m. Saturday for a three-hour trip up river to the location where officials believe the plane went down just south of I-220, not far from the northern end of the runway at the downtown airport.
The single-engine Piper Malibu Mirage took off around 10:30 a.m. Thursday. According to an NTSB briefing Friday night, they were initially heading west as directed by air traffic control.
“From that point, the flight track indicated they flew for about a minute prior to the accident. As you may have seen, two 360-degree left-hand turns, followed by a right-hand turn with decreasing air speed and then a steep descent into the river. The pilot did indicate that he wanted to return to the airport during that one-minute flight to the air traffic controller.”
It was at that point that air traffic control lost contact with the aircraft, prompting the to call 911 and setting off a search on both sides of the river involving multiple law enforcement agencies.
Search crews were able to narrow down the likely location of the wreckage Thursday by tracking beacon signals from the aircraft. Patches of oil and spoilage floating on the surface of the water led marine units to a location where sonar equipment detected debris in the river.
Whittington said Thursday the depth and swift currents at that location present logistical issues for recovery efforts.
“It’s about 17 feet deep, we believe it’s on the bottom. So, the river’s fast and swift and dangerous, so exactly how we’re gonna get it up is another question.”
Caddo and Bossier agencies are coordinating with divers from Cross Diving in Morgan City, along with federal aviation and NTSB investigators in that effort.
“Exactly how you go about raising a plane off the bottom with, we believe, bodies in it is not a thing we do every day, and so it’s gonna take some expertise that probably will have to be contracted out.
According to the flight plan filed for the aircraft, they were headed to Wilbarger County Airport in Vernon, TX. An early FAA crash report states the crash was due to unknown circumstances. An NTSB spokesman said Friday that the pilot and his passenger were flying to a ranch that he owned in Vernon, TX.