JACKSONVILLE, ONSLOW COUNTY - A preliminary report released on Wednesday by the National Transportation Safety Board sheds new light into the final minutes of a plane crash that killed a Marine Major.
The NTSB report said the plane flown by Maj. Luke Parker, 37, crashed on its way to approach to Duplin County Airport (DPL) in Kenansville. Friends of the pilot told NewsChannel 12 when the crash happened that Parker would stop at this airport to get fuel. Parker was headed to a funeral in Michigan when the crash occured November 17th.
The report also stated Parker accessed his plane at Albert J. Ellis (OAJ) Aiport just before 5:30 a.m. on the 17th; the crash happened approximately 30 minutes after that time. At the time of his departure, a lineman at OAJ said there was heavy fog; at the time of the crash, DPL's automated weather observation station reported calm winds and 1/2 mile visibility due to fog.
The cause of the crash was not released in the preliminary report, which is customary, NTSB officials said.
The final report could take up to a year to complete. See the full report here.
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He died in a plane crash while on his way to a fellow Marine's funeral. On Tuesday, it was his own funeral that drew hundreds of mourners.
Family and friends remembered the life of Camp Lejeune Maj. Luke Parker during a service Tuesday morning at First Baptist Church on Gum Branch Road in Jacksonville. The ceremony began with Maj. Parker's 10-year-old daughter performing a song.
"[Parker] fought a good fight. He completed the race, he kept the faith, and we plan to do the same in remembrance of him and for his family," said Maj. Gen. Mark Clark, a colleague. "He'll be missed."
Parker, who worked as a special operations instructor at Camp Lejeune (MARSOC), will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia beginning at 9 a.m. on Dec. 3.
The 37-year-old Parker was flying his Focke-Wulf 149 aircraft from Onslow County to attend a fellow Marine's funeral in Michigan, said LtCol. Ken Wolf (Ret.), a family friend who had known the victim for 20 years.
But the pilot's body and the wreckage of his small plane were found late the next day northeast of the Duplin County Airport in Kenansville, said Duplin County Emergency Manager Reid Southerland.
After Tuesday's funeral, Capt. Barry Morris, a colleague of Parker, said the victim was a strong leader for his Marines.
"He took them under their wing," Morris said. "He was a shepherd, if you will, guiding and mentoring them. He did exactly that and his reputation will live on."
One of Parker's MARSOC Marines, who cannot be identified because of his role in special operations, shared the same sentiment.
"[Parker] shielded you from everything else out there," the Marine said. "He protected you from other people. He cared about you. We're going to miss Maj. Parker greatly, and he's going to be some big shoes to fill. But knowing him, he would smile down on us and just ask us to keep moving on."
Parker is survived by his wife, his 10-year-old daughter, his parents and five siblings.
"You're never prepared for a loved one's death," Wolf said. "You can expect that something like this is going to happen if you are deployed as a combat Marine to a far-off land where there is a war. But you just don't expect it when it's here."
Parker had previously been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan.
Friend Lory Burney read to NewsChannel 12 a poem that Parker had wrote while serving overseas:
"Thank God for our country, freedom, way of life, and every blessing he bestows upon us daily. Life is fragile, it passes quickly; love endures."
- Luke Parker written in Iraq.
Burney said she first met Parker at an air show at MCAS Cherry Point in 2009.
"You know, it was instantly that I knew what an amazing man he is just speaking with him- his faith, his family and his dedication to the Marine Corps," said Burney. "[He is] an overall tremendous person- as a man, as a Marine, as a father, as a friend."
"There was just something special about Luke," Wolf told NewsChannel 12. "He was an incredible person- much more than just that amazing Marine that he was, but just an incredible person."
The aircraft had left Albert J. Ellis Airport near Jacksonville on Nov. 17 and was heading to Grosse Ile Airport in Michigan when it went missing, according to the FAA.
The pilot, who was the only person on board the plane, did not file a flight plan or receive air traffic control service, FAA officials said. An alert was issued when family members reported that the aircraft did not reach its destination.
Authorities were initially searching for the plane in Pender County, but did not find anything.
A location signal from the plane was then pinpointed at about 3 p.m. on Nov. 17 about 2 miles northeast of the end of the runway at the Duplin County Airport, said Southerland. Three ground teams, made up of a total of approximately 50 people, spent hours searching for the plane before finding the wreckage that night.
Burney described how she found out about the news.
"Scrolling through Facebook and I saw there had been a downed plane. It had left from Jacksonville going to Michigan and that it was an active-duty Marine. My heart dropped," Burney said.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Wounded Warrior Project.