This photo provided by AcadianNews shows first responders looking over the site of a plane crash near Feu Follet Road and Verot School Road in Lafayette, La., Saturday, Dec. 28, 2019. Authorities confirmed the accident but details on whether anyone was injured was not immediately known. (AcadianNews via AP)
ATLANTA, DEC 29: A small plane en route to a college football playoff game crashed into a post office parking lot in Louisiana shortly after takeoff Saturday, killing five people, including a well-known sports reporter who was the daughter-in-law of one of the team’s coaches.
The two-engine Piper Cheyenne crashed in the city of Lafayette about a mile from the regional airport where the flight began, Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Tony Molinaro said. Investigators from the FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board were investigating, according to Molinaro and an NTSB statement on Twitter.
The plane was an eight-passenger aircraft, said Lafayette Fire Chief Robert Benoit. Six people were on board the plane, five of whom were killed, he said. The sixth, a 37-year-old man, was being treated at an area hospital along with two people who were in the post office.
A person who was either in or near a car on the ground was also “impacted” by the crash and was being treated for injuries, Benoit said. He did not elaborate. A blackened car sat in the post office parking lot, which was carpeted with scattered tree limbs.
Kevin Jackson and other eyewitnesses told KLFY-TV that the plane hit a car as it fell and that someone could be heard screaming inside the vehicle.
Steven Ensminger Jr., son of the offensive coordinator for the Louisiana State University football team, said his wife, Carley McCord, was on board the flight and died when it crashed. He said the plane was en route to the Peach Bowl playoff game in Atlanta between LSU and Oklahoma.
“I just don’t feel like this is real,” Ensminger Jr. told the AP in an Instagram message.
Ensminger Jr. said he was unable to go to the game and was at work when the crash happened. He said his father, Steven Ensminger, called him just before the elder Ensminger got to the stadium. The coach had tears in his eyes when he appeared on the field at the start of the game Saturday afternoon, and LSU players embraced him with hugs.
“He’s the MVP right now,” LSU head coach Ed Orgeron said in an on-air halftime interview. LSU won 63-28.
The Lafayette Fire Department identified the other people who were killed as Ian E. Biggs, 51, the plane’s pilot; Robert Vaughn Crisp II, 59; Gretchen D. Vincent, 51; and Michael Walker Vincent, 15. The injured passenger, Stephen Wade Berzas, was in critical condition, said department spokesman Alton Trahan.
Several of the victims had ties to Global Data Systems, a Lafayette-based tech company. The business’ website shows that Crisp was the vice president of operations and Biggs, according to his LinkedIn profile, was a pilot and aircraft manager for GDS. Gretchen Vincent was the wife of the company’s CEO, The Advocate reported, according to one of her husband’s friends. Michael Walker Vincent was Gretchen Vincent’s son, according to a statement from the teenager’s school.
The plane went down in a part of the city with a scattering of banks, fast food chains and other businesses. A trail of scorched and burning grass could be seen around the crash site.
Marty Brady, 22, said the lights went out at his apartment a couple of hundred yards (183 meters) or so away from where the plane crashed just as he was making his morning coffee.
Brady said he ran out and saw black smoke and flames from the post office parking lot. He said the plane clipped and knocked down a power line over the gate to his apartment complex.
“If it had been a little lower, it could have been a lot worse,” he said.
McCord was a Baton Rouge native and sports reporter for WDSU-TV in New Orleans and appeared as a sideline reporter for ESPN, according to her website. She previously worked in television in Cleveland, and she was a two-time runner-up in the Miss Louisiana pageant.
“We are devastated by the loss of such an amazing talent and valued member of our WDSU family,” said WDSU President and General Manager, Joel Vilmenay. “Carley’s passion for sports journalism and her deep knowledge of Louisiana sports, from high school to the professional ranks, made her an exceptional journalist. ”
McCord was also part of the game-day entertainment staff for the NFL’s New Orleans Saints and the NBA’s New Orleans Pelicans, regularly appearing in promotional segments broadcast during games.
“Carley was a valued member of both our New Orleans Saints and New Orleans Pelicans family as an in-game host and her infectious personality and knowledge of both teams entertained our fans,” the two teams said.
Ensminger Jr. said he and his wife had the same birthday, and he shared a photo of the two celebrating at a restaurant, a dessert with a candle between them. His Instagram account shows photos of the couple and their families at various sporting events and celebrations. He updated the account Saturday to say: “I’ll never be the same without you, Carley! You are, and will forever be my world.”
McCord is the second journalist working in the New Orleans area to die in a plane crash this year. On August 16, WVUE news anchor Nancy Parker was doing a story in New Orleans about stunt pilot Franklin Augustus when the plane crashed. Both Parker and Augustus died.
The NTSB announced that Vice Chairman Bruce Landsberg and an eight-person investigative team were being sent to the scene of Saturday’s crash.
Landsberg will be there as a spokesman due to the high-profile nature of the crash, NTSB spokesman Terry Williams said.
Lafayette is the fourth-largest city in Louisiana with a population of about 130,000, according to the 2018 census. It is located about 135 miles west of New Orleans.