UPDATE, WEDNESDAY 6:15 p.m.: A rescue team has recovered the bodies of three victims who died in a single engine plane crash in Great Smoky Mountain National Park.
Park officials said the park's technical rescue team along with a Tennessee Army National Guard helicopter extricated the bodies from the wreckage of the Cessna 182 around 5 p.m. Wednesday.
The identities of the three people have not been officially confirmed. The three occupants of the plane had earlier been identified as 41-year-old David Starling, his 8-year-old son Hunter Starling and 42-year-old Kim Smith, from the Jacksonville, Fla., area.
UPDATE, WEDNESDAY 4:45 p.m.: A team of rangers from the National Park Service and Tennessee State Parks set off early in the morning to hike off trail through the Smokies to the plane crash site.
The steep climb to the remote area where the plane went down made for a difficult hike.
"It's not easy going. With a crew of nine people it will definitely be difficult for them to make it through those dense areas," said GSMNP spokesperson Jamie Sanders.
The rangers hiked for more than three hours along Bearpen Hollow Branch to reach the crash site. Once there, they used ropes to secure the plane to prevent it from rolling further down the mountain.
The plan, officials said, is to hoist the victims out with a helicopter.
"We feel that our rescuers are going to have to be roped up to go down and assist the National Guard in hoisting the individuals back up," said GSMNP Chief Ranger Steve Kloster.
The crew will also document the crash scene. Since it's so difficult to reach, NTSB investigators may rely on their observations to determine the cause of the crash.
"At this time we’re not sure if they’re going to want to get in to the site or if they’re going to be comfortable with our documentation," Kloster said.
UPDATE, WEDNESDAY 10:45 a.m.: Search and rescue teams and Tennessee Army National Guard aircraft began recovery efforts Wednesday morning of the three victims of a single-engine airplane that went down in Great Smoky Mountains National Park late Monday afternoon.
The plane was found by a Blackhawk helicopter from the 1-230th Tennessee Army National Guard around 4:45 p.m. Tuesday on a ridge between Cole Creek and Bearpen Hollow Branch.
“The plane is positioned on a very steep mountain side and could be at risk of sliding further down into the drainage,” GSMNP Chief Ranger Steve Kloster said in a statement. “These search and rescue personnel specialize in high angle rescues and have the best knowledge in making sure we conduct our operations in the safest manner possible.”
The National Park Service will evaluate options for removing the plane at a later date, officials said.
A technical rescue team from GSMNP is working to extract the victims by helicopter, according to a news release from the park.
Experts from Big South Fork National Recreation Area, Obed National Scene River and Tennessee State Parks are helping to secure the plane wreckage and extracting the victims from the "steep and heavily wooded terrain," the release said.
UPDATE, WEDNESDAY 6:30 a.m.: The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating a plane crash in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park that killed three people.
Kim Smith, 42; David Starling 41 and Hunter Starling, 8, were the three occupants on the plane, according to the National Park Service. The three were from the Jacksonville, Fla., area.
A reconnaissance flight by the Tennessee Army National Guard located the single engine airplane around 4:45 p.m. Tuesday. Paramedics on board the reconnaissance flight were hoisted down to the crash site, and confirmed there were no survivors.
Recovery efforts of the three victims begin Wednesday, according to the NPS.
UPDATE, TUESDAY 6:45 p.m.: A reconnaissance flight by the Tennessee Army National Guard located a missing single-engine airplane within Great Smoky Mountains National Park around 4:45 p.m. Tuesday, park officials said.
The plane was found on an unnamed ridge between Cole Creek and Bearpen Hollow Branch.
Park officials said paramedics were hoisted down from the Blackhawk helicopter to the crash site and confirmed that there were no survivors. The identities of the victims have not yet been confirmed.
The three occupants of the plane had earlier been identified as 41-year-old David Starling, his 8-year-old son Hunter Starling and 42-year-old Kim Smith, from the Jacksonville, Fla., area.
The National Transportation Safety Board will lead the investigation of the plane crash.
Recovery efforts of the three victims are expected to begin on Wednesday.
Park officials said ground teams search the steep and heavily wooded area on foot Tuesday, but were unable to access some areas due to rough terrain.
Air traffic controllers lost touch with the Cessna 182 around 4 p.m. Monday.
GSMNP spokesperson Jamie Sanders said officials were able to pinpoint a specific search area west-southwest of LeConte Lodge based on that last contact.
The National Park Service deployed 10 people in three crews to hike off trail looking for the aircraft – but heavy rain and thick fog complicated those search efforts.
“It’s very dangerous, there’s a lot of fog and searchers as they pan out and patrol areas it’s very hard for them to remain in contact with each other and can become very dangerous in terms of coming up on cliffs," Sanders said.
A Blackhawk helicopter from the 1-230th was flying along the last known flight path of the plane late Tuesday afternoon when it spotted the wreckage.
The wreckage was found "very close" to the Civil Air Patrol's last radar detection, said Lt. Col. John Henderson, vice commander of CAP's National Radar Analysis Team.
The National Park Service, the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center, Civil Air Patrol, Federal Aviation Administration and Tennessee Emergency Management Agency all assisted in the search.
PREVIOUS STORY: East Tennessee authorities are working to locate a missing plane that potentially went down in the ridges southwest of Mount LeConte Lodge in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Park officials said Tuesday that the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center has determined a specific area where the plane is most likely located.
Ground search teams were deployed on Tuesday to Bearpen Hollow Branch and areas southwest of the Bullhead Trail to search for signs of the plane.
Air traffic controllers lost contact with the Cessna 182 about 4:30 p.m. Monday as it flew about 15 miles south-southeast of Gatlinburg-Pigeon Forge Airport, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.
The FAA issued an alert after a family member notified the agency that the flight, from the Jacksonville, Fla. area, didn't arrive as expected.
According to family friends, David Starling, his 8-year-old son Hunter and Kim Smith were on the flight and are all missing.
Officials said the Civil Air Patrol conducted an aerial recon flight late Monday to try and locate the plane using its emergency locator transmitter, but couldn't find any transmissions from the aircraft.
The park is coordinating with the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency to do a reconnaissance flight over the search area, once weather allows.
No evidence of the plane has been found within the national park.
The fact that controllers lost contact doesn't mean the plane crashed. It's possible the plane had a technical problem and continued on its way and made a safe landing.