Four teenagers and four adults returning from a hunting trip were on board a small plane that crashed off the coast of North Carolina over the weekend, authorities announced Tuesday.
One body has been pulled from the Atlantic Ocean by search crews combing the area and there is no indication that anyone survived the crash, Carteret County Sheriff Asa Buck said Monday.
Everyone on board the plane was from North Carolina, and most lived in Carteret, a coastal county of nearly 70,000 people that includes the southern edge of the Outer Banks.
The sheriff’s office identified the adults on board as pilot Ernest Durwood Rawls, 67, of Greenville; Jeffrey Worthington Rawls, 28, of Greenville; Stephanie Ann McInnis Fulcher, 42, of Sea Level; and Douglas Hunter Parks, 45, of Sea Level.
The teenagers were identified as Jonathan Kole McInnis, 15, of Sea Level; Noah Lee Styron, 15, of Cedar Island; Michael Daily Shepard, 15, of Atlantic; and Jacob Nolan Taylor, 16, of Atlantic.
Carteret County includes communities such as Emerald Isle and Atlantic Beach as well as the Cape Lookout National Seashore and its iconic Outer Banks lighthouse, which has a black-and-white diamond pattern.
All four teenagers on board went to East Carteret High School, which has about 600 students, the school system said in a statement.
Following the news of Sunday’s crash, school counselors, psychologists and crisis team members from across the county have focused on being a resource for grieving students.
The counselors will remain “as long as additional support is needed,” the statement said, adding that the school system “continues to express its deepest concern, support and sympathy for those involved and affected by this tragic event.”
Charlie Snow, a close friend of the pilot, said that Ernest Rawls and Jeff Rawls were father and son, respectively. Jeff Rawls was a pilot as well, Snow said.
Snow said the elder Rawls had previously flown for his company, Outer Banks Airlines, and that he and Rawls had also flown together. The elder Rawls was a highly trained and an extremely capable pilot, not to mention a high-level aviation mechanic, said Snow, who is also a pilot.
“If anybody could get out of something, if it was possible to get out of it, he could have done it,” Snow said during a telephone interview. “So it makes me think that whatever happened was catastrophic. But you know, it’s just speculation.”
Snow said he and Ernest Rawls were like brothers and were friends for 20 years.
“I just don’t know many people in the world that I loved better than him,” Snow said. “He was just a great guy, a great pilot, a wonderful man — a fine Christian man.”
Snow said the plane that Rawls was flying was owned by Parks, one of the passengers. Fulcher, another passenger, was Parks’ girlfriend. Snow said the couple had taken the teens to a charity hunting event.
Kendra Lewis organized a prayer vigil for Tuesday night in the waterfront town of Atlantic, which has a population of about 500 people and is located in a region called Down East.
Lewis, 29, and other neighbors have rounded up hundreds of candles for mourners who will gather in the parking lot of a shuttered grocery store.
“We’re just an old fishing community,” she said. “We’re used to banding together and taking care of one another.”
Lewis watched the four boys grow up.
“They’re the definition of Down East people,” she said. “They hunted. They loved each other. They were just part of the community. We’re all just a big family.”
Search crews were still looking for the main body of the plane on Monday. Authorities had identified three debris fields, which had been moving farther off shore into the Atlantic Ocean.
US Coast Guard Capt. Matthew J. Baer told reporters Monday that multiple vessels from various agencies were continuing the search for the plane.
“We’ve got an all-hands-on-deck event going on here,” Baer said. “And we want the citizens of Carteret County and eastern North Carolina to know that your Coast Guard is out there doing our absolute best alongside our partners.”
The Coast Guard said it received a report of a possible downed aircraft on Sunday about 4 miles (6.4 kilometers) east of Drum Inlet from a Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point air traffic controller. The air traffic controller reported that the aircraft was behaving erratically on radar, then disappeared from the screen.
The single-engine Pilatus PC-12/47 crashed into the water approximately 18 miles (29 kilometers) northeast of Michael J. Smith Field in Beaufort, North Carolina, about 2 pm Sunday, according to an email from the Federal Aviation Administration. A preliminary accident notification on the FAA’s website noted that the aircraft “crashed into water under unknown circumstances.”
FlightAware listed a departure for that plane from Hyde County Airport at 1:35 pm Sunday and noted it was last seen near Beaufort at 2:01 pm
The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating.
Associated Press news researcher Jennifer Farrar contributed to this report.