Pilot Crashes, Dies Near Erwin

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By MELODY BROWN-PEYTON

Of The Record Staff

Friday was a picture-perfect day with warm weather and bright sunshine with slight wind gusts. Those slight wind gusts caused the ultralight piloted by 71-year-old Marshall Watkins of Raleigh to veer toward a group of trees. Mr. Watkins, a grandfather, tried to correct the path he was going, but ended up going down in Sawyer Field right next to Pierce Lane in Erwin. This stretch of airfield is not far from Harnett Regional Airport.

The crash call came in to the Harnett County 911 Center at 2:55 p.m. Mr. Watkins was pronounced dead at the scene.

Many pilots who fly into this field rushed out to see if they knew the pilot who had crashed. Jimmy Dorman, a fellow pilot, said, “It’s a bad situation and it had me worried to death when I heard that it might be some of my See Crashes, Page 3

Above is the plane that crashed, claiming the life of 71-year-old Marshall Watkins. Witnesses described the ultralight being pushed by a gust of wind toward trees. Right, Harnett County Sheriff’s Maj. Gary McNeill updates media Friday afternoon.

Daily Record Photos/Melody Brown-Peyton Crashes

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friends that hang around here and fly.”

Harnett County Sheriff’s Maj. Gary McNeill said witnesses said Mr. Watkins’ plane was hit by a gust of wind as he took off. He then tried to correct his path, but ended up going down.

Edie Pierce has lived on Pierce Lane for 32 years and said she has never witnessed a plane crash that ended with the loss of life.

“Most of the time pilots are able to get up and push their planes back to their storage area,” Mrs. Pierce said.

She was out running errands when she received an alert on her phone at 3:24 p.m., which informed her on the plane crash. Mrs. Pierce then received a text message from her daughter asking her if she was at home.

When she replied no, her daughter told her that she might want to get home that there had been a plane crash on her driveway.

Many of the residents who live along this road looked on in disbelief that something like this could happen.

Ricky Keeling, who had been flying since 1996, said that on a hot day like Friday it gives this type of aircraft a lot of thermal, which causes the aircraft to lift.

“Thermal can help or hurt you,” Mr. Keeling said.

He described this type of plane as fun, but it can also have the potential of danger. Mr. Keeling suggested he best time to fly this type of plane is early morning or late in the evening. He said during those times pilots do not have any wind.

Mr. Dorman said of flying an ultralight, “It’s like being a bird. You get in it and leave all your worries aside. You are free.”

Sawyer Field is a private airfield with a small hanger where ultralight aircrafts are stored.

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