Charleston County Coroner Rae Wooten will hold a rare inquest today in the hope of solving the mystery behind a plane crash in Charleston Harbor last year that claimed the lives of two men.
Pilot Ralph Brown, 61, and passenger Jim Powers, 76, both of James Island, died when the 1943 Boeing Stearman PT-17 biplane they were in smashed into Crab Bank during a sightseeing flight just before 7 p.m. on May 23, 2007.
The men were Air Force veterans and friends through church.
The weather was clear that evening, and a preliminary investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board found no obvious mechanical problems behind the crash.
From initial appearances, the crash seemed to be an accident. Someone came forward months later and provided authorities with information that raised the possibility that other factors were involved, Wooten said.
Wooten declined to discuss specifics or identify the individual, who is expected to be among about a dozen witnesses testifying at the inquest.
She said she didn't want to unduly influence prospective members of the six-person jury who will be asked to determine if the men died as the result of an accident or an intentional downing of the plane, or if there is another explanation.
"There have been enough questions raised about the possibilities of what may have happened that I finally felt the best thing to do for all parties is to have a public airing of what we know," Wooten said.
The inquest to determine the manner of death will be in Magistrate David Coker's courtroom at 4045 Bridge View Drive in North Charleston. The investigative proceeding, which is open to the public, will begin at 9 a.m.
Wooten will oversee the inquest, and she and jury members will be able to question the witnesses. The jury will then be asked to make a determination on the manner of death, but Wooten is not bound by that ruling.
Coroner's inquests are rare in Charleston County. The coroner's office investigates more than 1,000 deaths a year, but only six inquests have been held since 1992. The last one was in 2004.