McCLELLANVILLE, S.C. A jagged slash of downed and damaged trees marks the remote, swampy patch of woods where an executive with a Matthews-based telecommunications company and a flight instructor died in a violent plane crash last week.
When the twin-engine plane spiraled into the woods Thursday afternoon, it cleaved through pines, stripped trees of their bark and broke into five pieces, killing 44-year-old Patrick Eudy, president and CEO of Matthews-based American Broadband, and instructor Robert Ulrich, 69, of Idaho, authorities said.
Eudy, of Mount Pleasant, S.C., was an experienced pilot who owned at least three planes, including the 10-seat Rockwell, friends said.
Both men died from blunt force injuries, Charleston County Chief Deputy Coroner Bobbi Jo O’Neal said.
Ulrich reportedly was accompanying Eudy on Thursday during a routine outing so Eudy could get re-certified on the aircraft that crashed, a 1977 Rockwell International 690B.
Federal investigators said Friday they were still trying to pinpoint what caused the crash, which left a 300- by 40-foot wreckage site doused with aviation fuel. No distress call sounded before the plane augured into the forest at a 45-degree angle, they said.
The National Transportation Safety Board sent agents to the scene of the crash.
Atlanta Air Recovery from Griffin, Ga., also sent a team with heavy equipment to remove the wreckage and return it to Georgia for further investigation. A preliminary report on the crash is expected next week, officials said.
Successful and generous
In 2003, Eudy founded American Broadband, which operates telephone, cable television and broadband networks in rural markets throughout the U.S. Its website shows it has operations in Alaska, Missouri, Louisiana and Nebraska.
Before starting American Broadband, he was an executive with Charlotte-based FairPoint Communications, one of the nation’s largest rural telephone company operators. Eudy also was head of Nighthawk Air of Matthews, which owned the plane that crashed, records show.
Friends said he owned a home on Kiawah Island and was living most recently at The Tides in Mount Pleasant.
Friend John Bowden, a member of Eudy’s Big Booty sail racing team, said Eudy got into sailing about seven years ago and developed a passion for racing on the water. He had sailed around the country and along the East Coast, providing numerous opportunities for fellow sailors along the way, he said.
“He just jumped into it with both feet,” Bowden said. “He did a lot for the sailing community and a lot for the local sailors. He made a lot of opportunities happen for people.”
Bowden said Eudy had owned the Rockwell for three or four years and was very familiar with the plane. Eudy scheduled Thursday’s flight so he could get re-certified on the aircraft, he said.
The plane left the Johns Island airport at 4:30 p.m. on what was supposed to be a 53-minute flight to Georgetown and back.
They requested permission to do “air work” at 13,000 to 15,000 feet, leading investigators to deduce they were performing licensing- or certification-related tasks.
Air traffic control lost contact with the aircraft at 4:46 p.m. Thursday, federal officials said.
Motorists on U.S. 17 called 911 to report seeing a plane going down near the Intracoastal Waterway.
Witnesses said a small plane was seen spiraling toward the ground just south of McClellanville about 5 p.m. Calls to 911 dispatchers sparked a massive search for the wreckage.
One caller who lives on U.S. 17 said she, her husband and his co-workers all heard the plane, then the crash. A copy of the call was released Friday after The Post and Courier filed a Freedom of Information Act request.
“I heard an airplane making very peculiar noises,” the caller told a Charleston County dispatcher. “The motor of the plane was acting up, then we heard a crash.”
Ruthie Merritt, who lives on Lofton Road, described the sound as “just one big boom.”
The plane was found a couple of miles past the end of South Tibwin Road in a former rice field. It’s a swampy area full of alligators, snakes and mosquitoes. Searchers had to build temporary bridges between patches of high ground to get in with their all-terrain vehicles.
Aircraft fuel spilled in the area and officials are asking people to stay away from that patch of land.