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Small plane crashes near Bellamy leaving pilot dead

FROM STAFF AND WIRE REPORTS

BELLAMY &8212; The pilot of a small airplane was killed when it crashed in a rural, wooded area in West Alabama on a flight to Arkansas, authorities said Friday.

Nathan &8220;Nate&8221; Neil Stallings, 26, of Jonesboro, Ark., was killed in the crash that occurred at approximately 4:30 p.m. on Thursday near the Alabama-Mississippi state line, Sumter County Sheriff Johnny Hatter said.

The Piper Sartoga aircraft, which was returning to Jonesboro, went down after being reported missing by the Meridian, Miss., airport. Hatter said there were no others aboard the plane, which went down at a time of heavy rain and wind in the area.

Sumter County Coroner Terry Peeler told KAIT-TV in Jonesboro that Stallings&8217; body was found near the aircraft&8217;s fuselage and wings, which were found 500 yards apart.

Stallings was returning to Jonesboro after flying local businessman Vic Ditta to Gulf Shores. Ditta owned the plane.

Stallings&8217; aunt, Kathy Moore, said Friday that the Jonesboro High School graduate was a

commercial pilot, often taking local businessmen to various destinations in their planes.

Stallings was flying a single-engine plane at the time of the crash, Hatter said.

His plane was reported to have lost radio and radar contact around 4 p.m. Thursday. Local law enforcement was contacted, and a search of the area in which he was last traced started.

The plane was found in a heavily wooded area about 10 miles from a main road between the towns of Bellamy and Whitfield.

Hatter said 50-75 law enforcement and emergency personnel from various agencies immediately started searching for the plane, by land and air, after receiving the news that it had disappeared from radar.

Bill Gibson, director of the emergency management agency in nearby Choctaw County, told the Choctaw Sun-Advocate air traffic controllers in Meridian lost contact with Stallings&8217; plane northwest of the Whitfield community.

The foggy weather and intermittent storms made it difficult to locate the plane, the sheriff said. The plane was found with a wing and tale section broken off with Stallings still buckled in.

Moore said the family found out around 2:40 a.m. that the plane had been found.

Hatter is unsure what caused the accident, but said that there was heavy wind and rain in the area Thursday afternoon stemming from Tropical Storm Humberto, which had been downgraded to a tropical depression by the time it hit Alabama.

Family tradition

Stallings had found his true calling during the last few years, his family in Scottsboro told reporters Friday.

He dreamed of one day owning his own plane to make &8220;angel flights&8221; for individuals needing air transportation for medical reasons, they said.

Stallings wasn&8217;t the first member of his family to take to the skies. His father, the Rev. Ken Stallings, pastor of Forest Home Church of the Nazarene, two of his grandfathers and uncles have also been involved in aviation.

Moore, owner of SkyVenture Aviation, received her license five years ago, and it didn&8217;t take long for Nate Stallings to follow.

He had been a pilot for three years, logging 600 hours of flight time, and was licensed as a commercial, single- and multi-engine pilot.

His aunt noted that flying was a way of life for Stallings.

Moore said he often talked about one day owning his own plane so he could volunteer to take area residents for essential medical care in other cities.

Funeral plans are pending, and will be released by Emerson Funeral Home.

Times Managing Editor Gennie Phillips, LeAnn Askins of The Jonesboro Sun and the Associated Press all contributed to this report.