One killed in plane crash

Published 2:40 pm Friday, April 24, 2009

A single-engine experimental plane crashed just outside of John Essex High School on Friday, killing the pilot.

The fixed-wing, homemade single-passenger aircraft crashed right-side-up about 50 feet from the school’s football field and nearly 150 yards from the school building Friday afternoon.

The pilot, reported to be Mark E. Keeley of Forkland, died at the scene.

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The plane was smoldering soon after the crash, but posed no threat to the school or its students. As a safety precaution, the school was evacuated once rescue personnel arrived on the scene.

Responding to the crash site were the Demopolis Police Department, the Marengo County Sheriff’s Department, Demopolis Fire and Rescue and the Tombigbee Emergency Medical Services.

According to Demopolis Municipal Airport director Buzz Sawyer, the aircraft – reportedly powered by a Volkswagen engine – took off at 1:25 p.m. on Friday.

The crash took place at about 1:40 p.m., nearly 1.5 miles east of the airport behind the school.

Sawyer said Keeley was a new pilot to the community and that he wasn’t very familiar with him, adding that Keeley did not file a flight plan with the Demopolis tower before takeoff, and that the crew did not think he was going to fly.

“We thought he was just going to taxi the aircraft on the runway,” he said.

According to, a Web site used for tracking pilots and flights, Keeley had significant experience in flying a Westwind twin-engine aircraft, having logged a number of flight hours traveling to major cities.

Initial witness reports indicate the plane may have caught fire while in flight.

However, the investigation is ongoing through the National Transportation Safety Board, the Federal Aviation Administration and the Marengo County Sheriff’s Department and Demopolis Police Department. No one on the ground was injured, and the pilot was alone in the craft.