OWLS HEAD — The identities of the three people killed when the small plane they were riding in crashed at Knox County Regional Airport Friday are not expected to be released Saturday.
Investigators said while they have an idea of who may have been inside the Cessna 172 when it collided with a truck crossing the runway and crashed into nearby woods, they are waiting for DNA confirmation from the Maine Medical Examiner’s office, which would release the names.
“We are working with three names and family members and friends,” said Knox County Chief Deputy Tim Carroll.
Carroll did say that one of the victims is from Maine.
On Saturday, investigators from the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board were on the scene trying to determine the sequence of events that led to the deadly crash. A Maine State Forest Service helicopter retrieved the bodies from the woods to a nearby field. They were then transported to the Maine State Medical Examiner’s office. A helicopter will also be needed to remove the four-seat plane.
It is unclear whether the pilot of a small plane that collided with a pickup truck crossing the runway at Knox County Regional Airport before crashing had announced takeoff plans over the airport radio frequency.
Investigators were also withholding the name of the man, a pilot for one of the aviation companies based at the airport, driving the pickup truck. The truck driver wasn’t hurt.
Airport manager Jeff Northgraves said it is believed the plane collided with the right front of the truck just as it was lifting off at about 4:45 p.m. in clear, but dark conditions. It managed to climb another 150 feet before crashing into dense woods to the left of the runway and burst into flames.
The plane was so badly burned officials could not determine its tail number.
The mood among airport workers was glum. Kevin Waters, director of operations for Penobscot Island Air, said he heard the airplane crash.
“I heard a thump,” he said.
Penobscot Island Air provides service on the offshore islands and is based at the Knox County airport.
“When tragedy happens, it kind of hits the aviation community hard,” said Waters.
Northgraves said the truck driver was authorized and trained to drive the truck on the runway. He was crossing the runway on his way to pick up another pilot in a hangar when the collision took place.
He said it appears the truck driver had his radio tuned to the airport frequency, as required by airport procedures. Although the pilot of the airplane was heard on the radio at one point, it is not clear whether the pilot announced he was taking off.
Northgraves said the pilot was operating under visual flight rules, which do not require any radio announcements, unlike instrument flight rules. Visual rules apply to airplanes that are operated without instrumentation. Instrument flight rules are used by pilots in planes equipped with instruments that can guide the airplane through fog, clouds and other weather conditions.
Visual rules do not require the pilot to file a flight plan with the Federal Aviation Administration.
The Knox County Regional Airport is one of only six out of the state’s 36 public airports, including Portland, Bangor, Augusta, Bar Harbor and Presque Isle, with scheduled commercial flights. The airport does not have a control tower.
About 85 percent of the annual 55,000 takeoffs and landings at the airport involve airplanes without instrumentation.
The airport is home to a $4 million terminal, constructed in 2010.
The airport has been the scene of several fatal crashes over the years including a 1979 crash, when a de Havilland Twin Otter turboprop crashed short of the runway in foggy weather, killing 17 people.
The airport has about 80 aircraft.