ASHEBORO, N.C. — UPDATE: According to the Randolph County Sheriff's Office, the pilot and passenger of the missing plane have been identified as Bryan Andrew Manzer, 61, of Asheboro and Steven Neil Lewis, 30, of Liberty.
A plane crashed into a wooded area in Asheboro Friday night, prompting an overnight search that led authorities to find the wrecked plane with the pilot and passenger dead.
The Randolph County Sheriff's Office confirmed there were no survivors in a press conference on Saturday afternoon, just hours after search crews located the plane's wreckage on private property off Cedar Rock Mountain Road.
”No fire was involved. The plane was in one area. It was very much annihilated," said Randolph County Sheriff Gregory Seabolt.
Witnesses told WFMY News 2 the plane made loud popping sounds, gave off smoke, and flew very low to the tree line.
At a nearby football game at Southwest Randolph High School, people watched in shock as the plane circled low before spiraling down toward the trees.
"There were a few people who realized what had went on, they kind of all just sat there, and they gasped, they weren't really sure what to think," Jessica Bostic, who saw the plane go down, told WFMY News 2.
The plane goes missing. Then, a massive search is launched.
The single-propeller plane departed Knoxville, TN at about 6:30 p.m. Friday night on its way to Asheboro, NC, Ash-Rand Rescue Captain Matthew Hunt.
The passenger and pilot were both residents of Randolph County.
"At approximately 8:30, the airplane was approaching Asheboro Municipal Airport. It circled and identified that it was prepared to make a landing. After that time, the plane went missing," said Hunt.
Once the plane was determined to be missing, a search effort mounted at around 10 p.m. to try and find the small plane in the area around the airport-- much of which is rural and forested.
Agencies that contributed to the search included the Randolph County Sheriff's Office, Asheboro Police Department, multiple fire departments, the FAA, the U.S. Air Force, N.C. State Highway Patrol, Civil Air Patrol, Ash-Rand Rescue, and N.C. Emergency Management. More than 60 people assisted with the search in total.
Rain and darkness made the overnight search difficult. FAA authorities were also contacted and reported the radar last logged the plane in an area between the new Asheboro Bypass and Cannon Heights Drive.
Around 4:26 a.m. Saturday, the sheriff's office received information from an Air Force Coordination the tracked a cell phone signal to a wooded area near Southwestern Randolph High School. Personnel with the Ash--Rand Rescue and the sheriff's office then resumed the search.
The plane's crash site was finally located just after 7 a.m. Saturday morning, just minutes after a N.C. State Highway Patrol helicopter took off for another round of searches.
The plane's crash site was in a forested area near someone's home off Cedar Rock Mountain Road in Asheboro. That area is rural, with rocky roads and dense trees. It's 2.5 miles from the airport where the pilot had tried to land the plane.
The pilot and passenger were both found dead, and the Randolph County Sheriff's Office is leading the death investigation.
The sheriff's office hasn't released the identities of the two people killed in the crash.
Federal investigators called in
The National Transportation and Safety Board (NTSB) arrived in Asheboro from Atlanta on Saturday afternoon, according to an NTSB spokesperson.
The NTSB investigation steps will include documenting the wreckage, taking measurement and photos, reviewing the engine and plane pieces, examining the ground for scars, damage to trees, and collecting devices for examination in Washington, a spokesperson said.
The NTSB investigator will spend 3-5 days on the ground at the crash site in Asheboro, before returning to complete the initial report, which will be made public within two weeks of the crash on Oct. 4., the NTSB spokesperson said.
WFMY News 2 will continue to update this story as more information becomes available.