At about 11:19 a.m. the pilot said over the radio, “Emergency emergency, five five five papa mike,” giving the tail number of his private plane 25 seconds before air traffic controllers lost radar contact, according to a preliminary report from the National Transportation Safety Board.
There were five people, including the commercial pilot, aboard the Piper PA-31T when it took off from a private runway near Andrews, South Carolina, at about 10:45 a.m. on Oct. 25, according to the report. The plane was headed to Governor’s Harbor airport in the Bahamas.
When the plane took off from the rural area about an hour south of Myrtle Beach, the weather conditions were good, with moderate turbulence in the area, according to the Charleston Post and Courier.
The airplane flew over the coastline and began to climb to 25,000 feet, according to the NTSB report. When the plane reached about 95 miles southeast of Charleston and 24,300 feet, “the pilot made a garbled radio transmission indicating that he was diverting to CHS (Charleston International Airport).”
The report notes the plane stayed on course but started to descend. The plane took a sharp left, the report states, and started to descend at 4,000 feet per minute.
“About 25 seconds later, the radar data altitude parameter went invalid, the last reported altitude was 21,500 feet. About 35 seconds later, the pilot transmitted ‘emergency emergency, five five five papa mike,’ and no further transmissions were recorded,” the NTSB reports.
The Federal Aviation Agency sent out an alert and the U.S. Coast Guard launched a search with the help of private vessels and the U.S. Navy.
Searchers never found debris from the plane, but one of the search airplanes “reported an oil sheen on the surface of the water near the last known coordinates,” according to the NTSB.
The Coast Guard searched more than 3,000 square miles for the plane, a USCG spokesman said in the days after the crash.
Officials have not identified the pilot or passengers on the plane. The Post and Courier reported two of the passengers were Jamie Mitchum Jr., 58, and Joseph Wayne Allbritton Jr., 34, both from South Carolina.
The NTSB report notes the plane had an annual inspection on Sept. 5 and had routine maintenance. The pilot had his most recent medical certificate issued in March and had almost 2,800 hours of flight experience then.
FAA records show the plane was built in 1976 and belonged to the Bulldog Flying Club, registered in Wilmington, Delaware.