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Father, daughter perish in plane crash

Two Indiana residents lost their lives after a single-engine aircraft crashed on Buffalo Mountain on Friday, Oct. 9.
The Washington County Sheriff’s Department, which helped the Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department search Buffalo Mountain for the crash site, identified the victims as William Gibbons, 45, and his daughter, Abbey, 15, on Sunday. Oct. 11.
According to, the Columbia MFG aircraft, registered to Gibbons, was en route from McGhee Tyson Airport in Knoxville to Monroe County, Ind., after taking off at 6:32 p.m. on Friday.
The plane lost contact with flight controllers around 7:19 p.m., according to an online post issued from the Tri-Cities Weather & Alert Crew Facebook page.
Once calls started to pour into Unicoi County 911 dispatch at 7:15 p.m. Friday, Sheriff Mike Hensley said the Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department worked in conjunction with Tennessee Highway Patrol, Unaka Mountain Search and Rescue, along with emergency service providers. The organizations responded by setting up a command center at the Unicoi Visitor’s Center and the search effort began.
Officers raced to the scene to assist with the crash, Hensley said. The Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department Facebook page issued a post on Sunday, thanking different individuals with their help during the search, including the citizens in Unicoi County.
“I sincerely want to thank all the citizens that called in information on the location of the plane and the extraordinary job of Unicoi County 911 dispatchers,” part of the post read.
Hensley credited the THP helicopter pilot with locating the crash in the rainy conditions Friday night. Searchers began scouring the area before midnight and were able to find the debris field of the wreck on the Washington County border near Ramsey Creek.
The second round of searching began Saturday, Oct. 10, with a new command post set up at the all-terrain vehicle (ATV) trail on Dry Creek in the early morning hours, roughly three miles from the crash site.
While on the Washington County side of the mountain, Hensley and officers from Unicoi County set up with the local officials to assist with efforts.
“I’ve been in contact with Sheriff Ed Graybeal since the crash happened,” Hensley said on Saturday. “When we discovered the crash, we found out it was on the Washington County side of the mountain, so Washington County is heading up the investigation now.”
When The Erwin Record arrived to the scene, members of the East Tennessee State University William L. Jenkins’ forensic center were making their way to the site to extract the bodies for an autopsy, Hensley said.
Later in the evening, Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) made it to the command post. Shawn Etcher, an air safety investigator with NTSB, addressed the media after arriving to the area from Washington, D.C., before making his way to the scene.
“We’ll look at the man, the machine, and the environment for that,” Etcher said about the investigation into the crash. “Once the facts come out, it’s released to our board members … they are the ones who determine what caused the crash.”
Etcher said a preliminary report will be issued around a week from Saturday, but a full report on the event would take six months to a year to complete.
“Right now, we’re not looking at how or why it went down,” Etcher added. “It’s a long process. We’re here to collect perishable evidence, look at the aircraft … look at everything around it to help determine what caused the crash.”