WATCH: Witness describes small plane crash that killed two in Warren County

Man saw it fall, helped crews reach remote site
Posted at 6:34 PM, Oct 16, 2016
and last updated 2016-10-18 00:16:35-04

WATCH Dirk Morgan's eyewitness account of the crash and recovery efforts in the video player above.

TURTLECREEK TOWNSHIP, Ohio – Dirk Morgan says he looked up to see the smoking plane fall out of the sky.

"It came right through the treetops and then crashed to the floor," said Morgan, owner of Morgan Riverside Camps on the Little Miami River.

That was the beginning of an emotional and arduous Sunday night for Morgan. He witnessed two people die in the crash of a two-seater prop plane in a heavily-wooded, remote area near YMCA's Camp Kern. Then he used his knowledge of the rough terrain to help firefighters and first responders reach the crash site – roughly at the bottom of a cliff near the river.

Dirk Morgan

Investigators are hoping to be able to identify the victims Monday after recovering the bodies from the burning wreckage late Sunday night. Crews had not been able to get the plane's tail number. With the number, authorities can find out was logged in it, who owns it, where it came from and where it was headed. 

The first calls came in around 5:45 p.m. to Warren County dispatch that a plane was flying low and that smoke and flames could be seen. Even after a helicopter from the Ohio State Highway Patrol located the wreckage, first responders had their hands full just getting there.

"It's an extremely steep hill, probably 300 vertical feet just to get down to the river valley -  no roads, no trails," said Morgan, a member of the Morgan Canoe Rentals family.

"I went up to Moore-Saur Road to my neighbors' property - the Church of God camp. First responders were there, and I helped them go over the hill and carry equipment down the hill," Morgan said.

"I had to make two trips down to try to help them bring fire extinguishers and pick axes. … It was so steep you had to hold onto small saplings to keep from sliding 50 feet down the hill. So coming back up it was almost all fours, and I felt bad for the firefighters because they were in full turnout gear."

He said weary firefighters had to stop three times before reaching the spot.

Other firefighters arriving later took boats on the river or ATVs guided by GPS to get there.

"It's along the Little Miami River between Strout Road and Fort Ancient SR 350.  Those are the two bridges that it's between," Morgan said.

He was one of the first to reach the scene and he cringed at what he saw. The plane had sawed off trees as it fell.

Sgt. Robert Burd of the Ohio State Highway Patrol and Doyle Burke of the Warren County Coroner's Office brief reporters.

"There were pieces of trees and then I kind of looked up. There was an opening in the big Sycamore trees that were down there and there were parts of the plane hanging from the tree limbs," Morgan said.

"I just know I saw the smoking remains of what appeared to be a plane and parts, and I prayed for the families who lost their loved ones.

"I don't think anyone survived," he said before officials confirmed the worst. "I don't know how they could."

Sgt. Robert Burd of the Ohio State Highway Patrol and Doyle Burke, chief investigator for the Warren County Coroner's Office, briefed reporters at the staging area near Camp Kern.

"The plane's burnt. It is a complete loss," said Burd, assistant commander of the Lebanon Post.

Burke said it was impossible to tell even the sex or ages of the victims at the crash site.

"They'll be taken to the medical crime lab in Dayton where a medical examination will be performed (Monday)," Burke said.

He said the victims can be identified through missing persons reports, dental records or DNA.

Federal Aviation Administration investigators were on the scene Sunday night and the National Transportation Safety Board is expected on Monday.

Web Editor Greg Noble wrote this story from reporting by Rose-Ann Aragon.