The 1975 single-engine Cessna left a Cobb County airport early Sunday morning and crashed into Carrol County’s Shadinger Lake at approximately 9 a.m. Authorities say the plane’s three passengers - 51-year-old Brian Kearney, the pilot; Kearney’s wife, 45-year-old Christa Kearney; and 40-year-old Timothy Miller - were en route to the Kobalt Tools 500 NASCAR race at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
“First, Atlanta Air Salvage contacted us. Per protocol, we contacted the dive team in Carrolton and found they were unable to put their divers in the water because they didn’t have the necessary equipment for the divers to go in the water due to the hazards from the body parts and fuel that was leaking from the airplane,” Spalding County Sheriff’s Office Captain and UERT commander Tony Ranieri said. “After we spoke to them about their dilemna, we spoke with Sheriff (Dee) Stewart, who sent us there to assist them in any way we could. We then contacted Atlanta Air Salvage and said we would respond.”
Ranieri said from the time the UERT was initially contacted to activation was less than an hour and a half.
“We were notified around 12:30 Sunday afternoon and after finding out what was going on, we responded by calling out the dive team at 1:45 (p.m.) and arrived on the scene close to 2 o’clock. We were briefed and had enough daylight that we were able to keep divers in the water until about 8 o’clock.”
According to Ranieri, the UERT was successful in its first day of recovery efforts.
“It was enough time to recover one wing from the plane and the fusilage - the plane itself,” he said. “On Monday, recovered the engine, the second wing and the remaining body. We received outstanding support from the Carrol County Dive Team, the Carrolton Fire Department and the Carrol County Fire Department. The Carrol County Fire Department had their hazardous materials truck on the scene and we were able to put all of our equipment through. We had all of our equipment clean before we left Carrolton at around 3:30 to 4 o’clock. We were back in Griffin and had everything up and ready to go again by 6 o’clock.”
Ranieri said he is hopeful the UERT’s efforts will help Brian Kearney’s family as they cope with his unexpected death.
“With the operations prior to our arrival, they had already recovered the bodies of a female and a male. This was the body of the pilot we recovered,” he said. “We hope it will bring closure to his family. They still have a lot of unanswered questions and from what I understand from the NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board), they won’t be able to release any information as to the cause of the crash for five or six months. But, this will at least give the family some closure after his death.”
When asked if this was the first time the UERT has participated in such a recovery effort, Ranieri said, “For a plane, yes. We have dove for vehicles and boats and recovered those, but this is the first time we’ve worked to recover a downed airplane. But, with all the training the divers have received, particularly the public safety diver training, we had already been trained to recover such items. It was a tragic incident, but our team was well-prepared. Our guys did a great job.”