Holston Lake, Courtesy WCYB
Search crews have located the pilot of a helicopter that crashed into Holston Lake this weekend.
According to Virginia State Police, the body of Bill R. Starnes, 64, of Blountville, was located Monday afternoon, after three days of searching. He was the only person on board the Bell 407 helicopter when it crashed Friday night.
The helicopter, owned and operated by Food City, had been ferrying passengers from Bristol Motor Speedway to a home on South Holston Lake on the Washington County, Virginia, side. The helicopter had just dropped off six passengers and taken off when the crash happened around 10:30 p.m.
Investigators say the helicopter broke apart when it hit the water and sank. Crews are now working to remove the wreckage from the lake, which is between 25 feet and 80 feet deep around the wreckage.
Using a side-scan sonar, the Virginia State Police Search and Recovery Team (SRT) located the pilot's body in approximately 80 feet of water about 100 yards from the wreckage of the helicopter on Monday. Shortly after 3 p.m., his body was recovered from the water and is being transported to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Roanoke for examination and autopsy.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) are on scene investigating the crash, as well.
The cause of the crash remains under investigation.
Food City released the following statement:
Today, Food City mourns the loss of their beloved friend, pilot and team member, Bill R. Starnes.
"Bill was a great friend, a fiercely loyal associate, an expert pilot and a devoted husband and family man," said Steven C. Smith, Food City president and chief executive officer. "Our hearts are broken and we are saddened beyond words by this tragedy. The effects are felt throughout our entire Food City Family, who are continually in thought and prayer for his wife and family."
The company's helicopter, piloted by Starnes went down into South Holston Lake late Friday night, August 24th. Jim Bunn of Central Coal Company, co-owner of the helicopter and long-time friend of Starnes, is devastated as well by this sudden and unexpected tragedy.
"Bill was not just a pilot, but one of my best friends," said Jim Bunn. "May God be with his wife and his family."
Starnes, an extremely experienced military and civilian pilot was the only passenger on board the aircraft. At this time, no additional details are known about the cause of the accident. Food City officials have deferred to the findings of local authorities, who continue to investigate the matter.