Friends, Family Mourn Lost Pilot

December 26, 2002
Posted at: 8:10 p.m. CDT

EGYPT, Ark. -- While friends and family members visited the sight where a Cherokee Village man died in a Christmas Eve plane crash, investigators began what could be a year-long process to determine the cause of the tragedy.

Thirty-seven-year-old Eddie Wayne Thomas, Jr. died when his Beechcraft Baron 58A twin-engine plane crashed around 10 a.m. Tuesday, between two houses near the western Craighead County town of Egypt, off County Road 181.

Thomas was the only person on the six-passenger aircraft. He was enroute from Cherokee Village to Jonesboro for routine maintenance on the aircraft that was built in 1972. Thomas was attempting to divert to Walnut Ridge due to the poor weather conditions on the way.

Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board descended on the crash site Thursday. They will attempt to figure out if pilot error, mechanical failure, poor weather conditions, or a combination of the three led to the accident.

Meanwhile, friends and family members of Thomas spent the day trying to make sense of his untimely death.

"As a pilot, I flew hundreds of hours. I would love to have the opportunity to fly with him again. I'm that confident in his skills," said Kent Weiand, a friend of Thomas', said.

While another plane flies above the crash site, Weiand, and others, look over the site where Thomas' Baron 58A crashed.

"I'm not a pilot, and I know, you know uh, propellors full forward; throttle mixture rich, because he would always systematically do a check list," Weiand said.

Weaind said that Thomas' flight to Jonesboro was to service a switch on an alternator in the aircraft. NTSB investigators will look into the alternator switch, among other things, to see what could have caused the crash.

According to Joyce Reed of the NTSB, Thomas was trying to divert to Walnut Ridge, having complained of icing.

"He had made a transmission, referenced icing, and had requested to divert to Walnut Ridge," Reed said.

Thomas was cleared to land at the Walnut Ridge airport, according to Reed. That was the last time anyone heard Thomas' voice. The plane created two craters in the crash, Reed believes that the plane may have been vertical upon impact, where a fire consumed most of the wreckage.

"There was no evidence that we have found so far of any in-flight fire," Reed said.

The fuel fire started after impact, according to Reed. Thomas' burned body has been transported to the State Crime Lab in Little Rock to determine whether Thomas died before impact or not. The autopsy is scheduled for late Thursday or Friday. Among the tests will be a toxicology exam.

"The things that we're looking for are in toxicology," Craighead County Coroner Tody Edwards said. "If he's got medication in his system or anything like that."

According to Edwards, part of the reason for the autopsy is in order "to try to help the family answer some of their questions."

What is left of the plane's cockpit, tail and other parts of will be taken to Clinton, Ark., where it will be locked and stored for further investigation.

"All components as far as our wings and tail sections has arrived at the accident sight," Reed said.

There are many variables that investigators have to consider and then rule out. Thomas' friends and family members know one thing for sure: the pilot's spirit will be missed.

"He was very active," Weiand said. "Skiing, tennis all those things. He lived life literally to the fullest. He was a great, great, great person, a great father and a great friend."

The investigation into the crash could take up to a year, according to Reed. Meanwhile, toxicology reports could be returned in two months.