Officials estimate it could take from six months to one year to determine the cause of the plane crash that took the life of Eddie Wayne Thomas Jr. on Christmas Eve.
Thomas, 37, of Hardy was killed around 10 a.m. Dec. 24 when his twin-engine plane crashed near Egypt in Craighead County. Thomas had no passengers and no one on the ground was injured from the crash.
Thomas was en route to Jonesboro from Cherokee Village for routine maintenance on his 1972 Beechcraft Baron 58 6-passenger airplane when the incident occurred, said Arkansas State Trooper Tony Austin.
According to Craighead County Coroner Toby Emerson, Thomas filed a flight plan with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) listing Jonesboro as his destination but for some reason he asked to be diverted to Walnut Ridge for landing. "I understand the Memphis center cleared him for an instrument approach into Walnut Ridge," said Emerson. "But something happened somewhere during the approach and he ended up crashing."
Emerson said the crash site would not have been out of place for a pilot who intended to land at Walnut Ridge.
Emerson said Thomas' plane first impacted with the top of several pine trees, then turned nose first and impacted with the ground. He said the aircraft came to rest about 20 feet from the point of impact.
"There was a post crash fire and he was badly burned," Emerson said. He said Thomas sustained burns to 96 percent of his body. "In our first examination we feel the impact killed him," Emerson said. He said Thomas' body was found approximately three feet from the aircraft between the fuselage and the wing.
His body was sent to the state medical examiner's office.
Ken Newcom, manager of the Walnut Ridge Municipal Airport, said the facility received a radio transmission from Thomas who asked for an airport advisory. "All we did was tell him the wind direction and our favorite runway and that there was no other reported traffic," said Newcom. "That was the only information we gave him and we didn't hear anything else from him."
Newcom said Thomas did not report an emergency or appear to be panicked.
"It appeared to be a normal inquiry and everything seemed normal," said Newcom. Egypt is approximately 10 miles from the Walnut Ridge airport.
According to Ray Maynard, commission chairman of the Sharp County Regional Airport, an instrument landing was an indication visibility was poor that day. He said it indicated a visual landing was not acceptable.
Emerson said the visual ceiling was 800 feet Dec. 24, which is 200 feet higher than the minimum requirement for landing.
Although the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has not yet released a report on the crash, officials speculated ice might have been a contributing factor.
Officials with the NTSB and the FAA were unavailable for comment.
Austin, Emerson and Maynard said the weather conditions Christmas Eve could have been consistent with an icing problem on the plane.
"Icing is a thing to be avoided with airplanes, especially small ones," said Maynard. "You get into an area where there is moisture, especially if it's just below freezing. The moisture can still be in a liquid form, sometimes called super cool moisture, and when it strikes an object such as an airplane wing it immediately freezes and you can build up ice at an alarming rate."
Maynard said icing would have been visible to the pilot because the windshield would have begun to ice over, which might explain why Thomas asked to be diverted to Walnut Ridge.
The temperature hovered around freezing the day of the crash and a light rain was falling, turning to sleet and snow later in the day.
A family spokesman said, "We don't know that it was weather even though that's what a lot of people are saying, That is not a fact. It could very well be mechanical; that is a very real possibility."
Maynard said Thomas was an accomplished pilot who flew at least every couple of days. He did not find it unusual Thomas might have decided to make a quick trip to Jonesboro for routine maintenance on Christmas Eve.
"Knowing Eddie the way I do, there was probably something he wanted to do and he wanted to get it taken care of right away," said Maynard. "He didn't like to leave things sitting around."
Thomas had a private pilot license, instrumental single engine license, instrumental dual engine license, commercial engine single license and a commercial engine dual license. He had logged 1500 hours of flight time within the last two years.
The NTSB and the FAA removed the crash debris from the accident site Dec. 26; it was taken to a secure location in Clinton.
Thomas was the son of Eddie Wayne Thomas Sr. of Hardy and Roanne Waggener Burton of Brownsville, Tenn, He was married to Renee Clay Thomas and had two daughters -- Amy Renee, 7, and Laura Kathryn, 2.
He was a 1984 graduate of Highland High School and graduated from Quachita Baptist University in 1988 with a degree in business administration. He was a supervisor for Town & Country and Price Chopper Food Stores for many years. He also was the 1999, 2000 and 2002 state of Arkansas INT Water Ski Champion.