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Plane crash victim died of blunt force trauma

BY Kaitlin Gebby - kgebby@chronicle-tribune.com

The Marion airport community is reeling after a local pilot was killed in a plane crash south of the Marion Municipal Airport Thursday, making it the second deadly crash this year.

Jeffrey C. Barrett, 60, of Marion, was piloting a Piper PA-30, a twin-engine monoplane, heading south to an unknown destination when his plane nose dived and crashed into a field off Ind. 22.

Authorities rushed to the scene where the plane was engulfed in flames, blocking off a mile stretch of Ind. 22 between Ind. 35 and Ind. 37. Grant County Sheriff’s Capt. Ed Beaty said the wreckage was burnt beyond recognition.

County Coroner Chris Butche conducted an autopsy Friday and determined Barrett died from blunt force trauma and said he likely died on impact.

Investigators from the Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board guided Barrett’s grandson, Gage Barrett, age 19, into the hangar where his grandfather stored his plane.

He said he and his grandfather were very close, spending most of their time together working on cars, planes, houses, “you name it.”

He walked into the hangar to open a lockbox with receipts of plane parts for the left engine to his grandfather’s plane, something he said had always had issues. An air force veteran retired from Grissom Air Base, Barrett was an experienced technician. On Thursday, he had been making repairs to the left engine of his Piper PA-30 and took it out for a test flight, according to his grandson.

“The last thing I said to him was ‘I love you, Grandpa. I’ll see you around,’” he said.

Andy Darlington, Marion airport manager, said he’s known Barrett as a pilot for around 20 years.

“He’s a really nice guy, and it’s just a tragic thing that’s happened,” he said. “It’s sad for all of us here. I can’t see it keeping anyone (from flying) though.”

Darlington added that many pilots know the risks of flying, and so crashes leave pilots erring on the side of caution rather than keep people on the ground.

This is the second crash at the Marion airport this year. In April, two Madison County volunteer firefighters died when their small engine plane collided with a landing private jet during takeoff.

Kent Ruley, a pilot since 1986, said Thursday after the crash “some tragedies are unavoidable, they just happen for what seems like no reason.”

Ruley and Darlington speculated that Barrett may have tried to circle back to the runway upon experiencing issues with the plane when he lost control and crashed.

The FAA and NTSB are heading the investigation, where they’ll look at debris from the aircraft, weather conditions and visibility and any other evidence that can be had to understand why the crash happened.

Gage Barrett said he wish he’d known it was his grandfather’s last day, that he would have stopped him from taking a test flight if he had the chance.