McCLELLANVILLE — A jagged slash of downed and damaged trees mark the remote, swampy patch of woods where a telecommunications executive and a flight instructor died in a violent plane crash.
When the twin-engine plane spiraled into the woods Thursday afternoon, it cleaved through pines, stripped trees of their bark and broke into five pieces, killing 44-year-old Patrick Eudy of Mount Pleasant and instructor Robert Ulrich, 69, of Idaho, authorities said.
Both men died from blunt force injuries, Charleston County Chief Deputy Coroner Bobbi Jo O’Neal said.
Ulrich reportedly was accompanying Eudy on Thursday during a routine outing so Eudy could get re-certified on the aircraft that crashed, a 1977 Rockwell International 690B.
Eudy, president and CEO of Matthews, N.C.-based telecommunications firm American Broadband, was an experienced pilot who owned at least three planes, including the 10-seat Rockwell, friends said.
Federal investigators said Friday they were still trying to pinpoint what caused the crash, which left a 300-by-40-foot wreckage site doused with aviation fuel. No distress call sounded before the plane augured into the forest at a 45-degree angle, they said.
The National Transportation Safety Board sent agents to the scene of the crash, off U.S. Highway 17 near South Tibwin Road.
Atlanta Air Recovery from Griffin, Ga., also sent a team with heavy equipment to remove the wreckage and return it to Georgia for further investigation. A preliminary report on the crash is expected next week, officials said.
As officials combed through the wreckage, news of Eudy’s death brought grief to the Lowcountry sailing community, where he was known as an avid racer and a benevolent friend.
Jessica Koenig, executive director of Charleston Community Sailing, said Eudy was a generous donor to her nonprofit and he passed along his love of sailing to everyone he knew, including his four children.
“He really lived life to the fullest, and this is a shock to everyone in the community,” she said.
In 2003, Eudy founded American Broadband, which operates telephone, cable television and broadband networks in rural markets throughout the U.S. Its website shows it has operations in Alaska, Missouri, Louisiana and Nebraska.
According to 2006 profile of Eudy in the Charlotte Business Journal, he was a Durham, N.C., native and a University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill graduate who dreamed of running his own company.
Before starting American Broadband, he was an executive with Charlotte-based FairPoint Communications Inc., one of the nation’s largest rural telephone company operators. Eudy also was head of Nighthawk Air LLC of Matthews, N.C., which owned the plane that crashed, records show.
Friends said he owned a home on Kiawah Island and was living most recently at The Tides in Mount Pleasant.
Friend John Bowden, a member of Eudy’s Big Booty sail racing team, said Eudy got into sailing about seven years ago and developed a passion for racing on the water. He had sailed around the country and along the East Coast, providing numerous opportunities for fellow sailors along the way, he said.
“He just jumped into it with both feet,” Bowden said. “He did a lot for the sailing community and a lot for the local sailors. He made a lot of opportunities happen for people.”
Bowden said Eudy had owned the Rockwell for three or four years and was very familiar with the plane. Eudy scheduled Thursday’s flight so he could get re-certified on the aircraft, he said.
Less was known Friday about Ulrich, who accompanied Eudy on the flight. A listing on the Seaplane Pilots Association described him as a member from Bellevue, Idaho, who was a qualified instructor for a variety of planes.
The association’s Idaho field director, Mike Kincaid, said he didn’t know Ulrich. And representatives from Johns Island Executive Airport, where Eudy’s plane took off Thursday, declined to comment on the crash or the men involved.
The plane left the Johns Island airport at 4:30 p.m. on what was supposed to be a 53-minute flight to Georgetown and back. They requested permission to do “air work” at 13,000- to -15,000-feet, leading investigators to deduce they were performing licensing- or certification-related tasks.
Air traffic control lost contact with the aircraft at 4:46 p.m. Thursday, federal officials said.
Motorists on U.S. Highway 17 called 911 to report seeing a plane going down near the Intracoastal Waterway.
Witnesses said a small plane was seen spiraling toward the ground just south of McClellanville around 5 p.m. Calls to 911 dispatchers sparked a massive search for the wreckage.
One caller who lives on Highway 17 said she, her husband and his co-workers all heard the plane, then the crash. A copy of the call was released Friday after The Post and Courier filed a Freedom of Information Act request.
“I heard an airplane making very peculiar noises,” the caller told a Charleston County dispatcher. “The motor of the plane was acting up, then we heard a crash.”
Ruthie Merritt, who lives on Lofton Road, described the sound as “just one big boom.”
The plane was found a couple of miles past the end of South Tibwin Road, in a former rice field. It’s a swampy area full of alligators, snakes and mosquitoes. Searchers had to build temporary bridges between patches of high ground to get in with their all-terrain vehicles.
Aircraft fuel spilled in the area and officials are asking people to stay away from that patch of land, officials said.
Brenda Rindge, Andrew Knapp, Schuyler Kropf, and John McDermott contributed to this report.