A Georgia pilot who was killed in a plane crash more than two months ago near Beauregard, Ala., was calm and matter-of-fact as he communicated with an air traffic controller minutes before his death, according to an audio tape released Friday by the Federal Aviation Administration.
Fulton County Juvenile Court Judge Sanford Jones, the 56-year-old pilot, and front-seat passenger Alexander “Sasha” Medina, 18, of Newnan, Ga., were killed May 15 as Sanford tried to make an emergency landing because of engine failure.
Sanford was piloting a single-engine Beech Bonanza aircraft bound from Destin, Fla. to Newnan, Ga., when he informed air traffic controllers in Peachtree City, Ga., that he was in trouble.
“I have an engine failure,” Sanford said. “Get me to the nearest airport.”
At the time the plane was 13 miles from the Auburn-Opelika Airport and 22 miles from the Columbus Metropolitian Airport, according to the tower.
In the tape, the air traffic controller says, “State your intentions. Are you going to be able to make it to the Auburn airport?”Sanford replies, “I am hoping so.”
Shortly after that, Sanford told the air traffic controller he had the Auburn-Opelika Airport in sight.
The pilot and the tower then had an exchange about switching to an emergency frequency. The conversation ended with the air traffic controller telling the pilot he was 6.8 miles from Auburn.
“As soon as you land, give me a call,” the air traffic controller said.
“I don’t know if I am going to be able to that ...,” Sanford said.
Another pilot was taking off from the Auburn-Opelika Airport at the time; he was asked by the air traffic controller to remain in the area.
Not long after that, the second pilot reported seeing smoke.
“I am looking for them,” the second pilot said. “I don’t see them.”
The second pilot then reported seeing a plane upside down with a wing missing.
Sanford’s plane crashed in a hayfield 4.3 miles from the Auburn-Opelika Airport at 11:42 a.m. CDT, according to a preliminary investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board. The plane clipped some trees at the edge of the field and nose-dived into the ground.
The two backseat passengers on the six-seater aircraft, Newnan residents Sarah Conklin, 19, and Joshua Rumohr, 18, survived. One of them dialed 911 to direct emergency crews to the site, according to reports at the time of the crash.
The three teenagers had driven to Florida and Jones flying them home to Newnan.