Missing man's plane found at airport, wrecked with his body on board
MONCKS CORNER — Only a faint ping came back from his cell phone when the tower signaled. The battery was dead. The plane was missing and its emergency beacon hadn't sounded. For two weeks no one knew what happened to Kenneth Tollett.
Tollett, 65, of Pinopolis died when his single engine Cessna 150 crashed into thick woods at the edge of Berkeley County Airport on the afternoon on Oct. 13.
The wreckage and his body were discovered Thursday in thick woods just beyond the airport runway as Berkeley County Sheriff's deputies launched an air search with airplanes and helicopters from the State Law Enforcement Division, the Charleston County Sheriff's Office, the Civil Air Patrol and Berkeley County Emergency Preparedness, a Berkeley Sheriff's news release said.
Both the Federal Aviation Authority and the National Transportation Safety Board are investigating, the release said
Tollett was reported missing to Berkeley County's Sheriff's Office on Monday, after his fiancee Jan Heaton and his family became alarmed they had not heard from him. It wasn't unusual for him to fly off for weeks at a time, they said. He was on his way to the airport that day when she last saw him.
"At first Jan didn't think much of it," said Rachel Tollett, Tollett's daughter, who lives out of state. "He loved to fly. He loved to explore. He loved to go different places. Sometimes he'd go off by himself." But when a few days became weeks, Heaton, Rachel Tollett and Tollett's two sons began to search for him, trying to find out where the plane might have gone.
No one noticed the wreckage because the plane hit several trees on the way down and came apart, and the woods are very thick, said Dan Moon, Berkeley sheriff's spokesman.
Tollett was an Air Force veteran who refueled jets in Vietnam. He was an experienced pilot who first obtained his license in 1992. He taught in Berkeley County schools for 29 years until he retired in 2008 as a Berkeley High School history teacher. He flew to see for himself historic sites like the Gettysburg battlefield of the Civil War, and brought back the experiences for his students, said Cheryl Pyatt, another fellow teacher.
"He was passionate about the things he did. He was passionate about flying," she said. "It gives you a little peace (about how he died) because he loved to fly." She laughed recalling that one time at a teachers' workday, Tollett jumped up on the school stage and gave other teachers an impromptu sample lesson about ballroom dancing.
"He was very graceful. He was an awesome, awesome dancer," she said.
There's a story behind that. In a 1997 story in The Post and Courier, Tollett talked about learning to waltz at the Arthur Murray Dance Studio and falling in love with a fellow student he met, Heaton. He didn't like to dance with her at first, he said, because she kept trying to lead. She recalled not liking to dance with him because he was clumsy.
"We couldn't stand each other," Tollett said. Then classmates picked them as the king and queen of the Valentine's Day ball. "She let me lead that night," Tollett said. They fell in love and began dancing weekends at the Elks Club and the Charleston Rifle Club.
They learned to give each other space, Heaton said then. "Now it's hard for us to dance with anybody else because we know each other's signals."
Tollett leaves behind his daughter and two sons. The family expects to bury him in Tennessee next to his late wife, Delilah June Tollett, who died in 1987, Rachel Tollett said.
Relatives and friends had put up a Facebook page to help find him. On Wednesday, the page was entitled, "Help Find Kenneth Tollett," but the name of the page was changed to "Rest with the Angels Kenneth Tollett" after news spread that the plane had been found.