Four men, including a father and son, a prominent high school football coach and a two-time champion sprint car racer, were killed Friday afternoon when a single-engine plane spiraled and crashed on the bank of Lake Hartwell.
The men were flying from Warsaw, Indiana to Clemson to watch the Clemson versus Notre Dame football game scheduled for Saturday, authorities said.
Oconee County Coroner Karl Addis identified the men, who were all from Warsaw, as: Charles D. Smith, 71; his son, Scott A. Smith, 44; Tony L. Elliott, 54; and Scott D. Bibler, 51.
There were no survivors.
Charles Smith, was piloting the plane and his son Scott was in the front passenger seat. Elliott was a rear passenger. Bibler’s seat was unknown, Addis said.
Elliott was a champion race car driver who won the U.S. Auto Club national sprint car series in 1998 and 2000.
Tony Stewart Racing posted a message on Facebook early Saturday that said Elliott was a “fierce competitor on the track, he was also a father, husband, son, brother and friend. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Elliott family at this time. Godspeed & Rest In Peace.”
Charles Smith was a former state-champion football coach at Tippecanoe Valley High School in Warsaw. He was also a banker and Warsaw City Councilman.
His son Scott, one of this three children, was an attorney in Warsaw, according to inkfreenews.com.
Bibler was also a former Tippecanoe Valley football coach who has just resigned to take a job with an in-home family counseling company, inkfreenews.com reported.
The plane crashed in a wooded area of Lake Hartwell in the Tabor community near the South Carolina/Georgia state line, Addis said. A 911 call reported the plane spiraling downward at 3:13 p.m., he said.
“The airplane, a 1984 single engine Piper Saratoga, departed Warsaw, Indiana at approximately midday and was scheduled to land at the Oconee County Airport,” Addis said. “The individuals were traveling to Clemson to attend the Clemson – Notre Dame Football game.”
Autopsies would be scheduled to assist in the investigation, he said.
Oconee County Emergency Services officials located the debris field and bodies on the Oconee County side of the lake, Deputy Chief Adam Williams said.
About 8 p.m. Friday, emergency crews were retrieving the bodies from the wreckage.
An official at Oconee County Regional Airport said the plane was flying from Warsaw to the Oconee airport and the pilot had filed a flight plan. Conditions around the Oconee airport were "dismal" Friday afternoon, the official said.
The Federal Aviation Administration received a mayday transmission at 3:15 p.m., Williams said.
The flight tracking website FlightAware said the Piper aircraft left Warsaw Municipal Airport at 11:59 a.m. and was scheduled to arrive at Oconee Regional at 3:17 p.m.
Oconee Regional is less than a mile from Lake Hartwell and less than a five-minute drive to Clemson University's football stadium. Clemson is scheduled to play The University of Notre Dame at the stadium on Saturday. Warsaw is about 50 miles south of Notre Dame's campus in South Bend, Indiana.
A one-mile debris trail extended from the lake 60 yards into nearby woods, Williams said. The debris field was both on the ground and in the water, he said. The crash site is in a remote area of the lake and much of the recovery work will be done by boats, Williams said.
No one saw the plane crash, but witnesses reported they saw it coming down, he said.
"They heard the crash; no one saw it impact," Williams told The Greenville News.
Ground crews searched the banks on both the Georgia and South Carolina sides of the lake and boats with sonar capability scoured the area, Williams said. Additionally, the Oconee County Sheriff's Office had a helicopter assisting in the area, he said.
FAA officials alerted local authorities and airports around the Georgia-South Carolina border about a missing Piper PA-32 aircraft, headed to Clemson, after air traffic controllers lost contact with the flight about 3:30 p.m.
The FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board are investigating, with the NTSB to determine the probable cause. Officials from both agencies are expected to be at the scene Saturday morning.