Chapel Hill News

Men in fatal Durham plane crash identified

Authorities have identified the man killed in a small plane crash in northern Durham County on Tuesday as Michael Ratty of Chapel Hill.

Another man injured in the crash was identified Wednesday as Clay Thomas by Rick Fuller, one of the owners of Lake Ridge Aero Park Airport in Durham, where the two men took off.

Thomas is the owner of Clay Thomas Builders Inc. in Durham. Efforts to reach his family were unsuccessful. He was taken to Duke Hospital after the crash with life-threatening injuries.

Ratty was already dead when responders reached the scene.

“He was a very nice man,” Fuller said. “We were great friends.”

Dennis Diaz, an air safety investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board, could not yet say why the plane went down or which man was piloting it. The plane’s control slides to each seat so that either person can fly the craft.

“It’s basically a steering wheel that you could move from one side to the other,” Diaz said.

The Beech D95A fixed-wing plane is owned by a group called Carolina Barnstormers Inc. based in Chapel Hill.

It took off shortly before noon from Lake Ridge Aero Park Airport, off of East Geer Street, and crashed 15 miles away in a wooded area in Bahama around 12:30 p.m.

Three witnesses may have seen or heard the plane go down, Diaz said.

The plane, which is still relatively intact, crashed about 100 feet from Archery Range Road. The wreckage path was not long, meaning the plane did not go very far upon hitting the ground, Diaz said.

“There was no evidence of in-flight break-up,” he said. “Everything is right there. It’s a fairly compact scene.”

Bahama Fire Chief Len Needham said his four-person staff and a half-dozen community volunteers responded immediately to search for the wreck.

Durham Fire Department, Lebanon Fire Department and Durham Emergency Management personnel also responded.