Family and friends mourned Thursday after learning that Cerea Beal Jr. of southeast Charlotte was among two pilots killed a day earlier in the crash of a UPS cargo plane in northern Alabama.
Beal, 58, was in the cockpit of the Airbus 300 jet that crashed on approach to Birmingham-Shuttlesworth Airport. The aircraft went down about 6 a.m.
It crashed in an open area near the airport. There were no other injuries.
UPS on Thursday identified the pilots as Capt. Beal and First Officer Shanda Fanning, 37, of Lynchburg, Tenn.
Beal had been with UPS since 1990. He served more than six years in the Marines as a heavy lift helicopter pilot, UPS said.
Beal’s family has asked for privacy in the wake of the crash, according to Charlotte-Mecklenburg police. Residents of the quiet community where Beal lived, south of Matthews and a short distance from the Mecklenburg-Union county line, described the UPS pilot as a good neighbor and a great family man.
Neighbors were reluctant to talk with reporters, saying they wanted to protect the family. But a few who live on the Beal family’s street agreed to talk, asking not to be identified.
“He loved his family, and they are all close,” one neighbor said.
A woman who also lives nearby talked about Beal’s pride in his children. One of his two daughters, Sarah, is an outstanding basketball player who won a scholarship to Providence University.
Beal is shown on pilot records as being certified as a transport pilot for single-engine and multi-engine aircraft and for helicopters. He also is listed as certified as a flight engineer. It is not clear whether Beal or Fanning was piloting the jet when it crashed on approach to the airport.
UPS Chairman and CEO Scott Davis issued a statement saying, “All of us at UPS extend our deepest sympathies to the families and friends of these two crew members. Our efforts now are primarily focused on helping the families.”
The company said it is providing support services for the families of the two pilots.
People who live near the airport reported hearing a sputtering sound as the jet, which had taken off from Louisville, Ky., approached the Birmingham airport in the pre-dawn darkness.
Federal investigators found no initial evidence that the UPS cargo jet suffered engine failure or was burning before it clipped trees at the end of a runway and slammed into a hillside, officials said Thursday.
Robert Sumwalt, a member of the National Transportation Safety Board, said during an afternoon news conference that the findings were only preliminary, and investigators hope to get additional evidence from data and voice recorders that were pulled from the plane’s burned-out tail section earlier in the day.
Meanwhile, a nonprofit organization in Birmingham has announced it will produce and sell T-shirts in an effort to raise money for the victims’ families.
Freeset USA, which produces a variety of goods and uses proceeds to fight human trafficking in India, had thousands of items on the plane that crashed. Kristi Griem, company president, said Thursday that it is unclear if any of those items are salvageable.
But in a statement announcing the production of the T-shirts, Griem said, “We seek to honor them (the pilots) and their families in the face of this loss.”
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