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Three killed aboard civilian plane working for MacDill Air Force Base

The small plane that crashed during a MacDill Air Force Base training exercise Wednesday night likely plunged nose-down into the ground at a high speed, an investigator said Thursday.

The cause of the crash that killed three civilians just south of Polk County is still under investigation and may be for the next nine to 12 months, said National Transportation Safety Board investigator Ralph Hicks.

He traveled from Atlanta to analyze the wreckage and said it was too early to speculate. Authorities still haven't released the victims' names.

"We're here to document the facts, document the evidence, take photographs and interview witnesses," he said.

According to Bay News 9, there were heavy rains in the area at the time of the crash. The station sent data from its Klystron 9 radar to the NTSB, and Hicks also plans to work with his agency's Washington, D.C., meteorologists.

According to MacDill, the plane was providing communication training for controllers on the ground during a Special Operations Command training exercise.

There were no military personnel or armament on the aircraft, according to a statement from the 6th Air Mobility Wing based out of MacDill.

Special Operations Command spokesman Wes Ticer said it's not uncommon for civilian planes to be contracted for these types of exercises.

Crash debris scattered over about 5 acres in Highlands County, near the Avon Park Air Force Range, where the plane took off.

It was a Cessna 337, a two-engine light aircraft that seats four, according to the safety board. Three people were on board Wednesday and all were killed, said a spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration.

According to a radio transmission, the first sign of trouble with the plane came just after 9:30 p.m.

The plane does not have a black box, but there may be other sources of information, like a Global Positioning System, Hicks said. He plans to interview witnesses and check local radar data to see whether records exist of the plane's altitude and course.

After a few days of gathering information in the field with his team, Hicks will return to his Atlanta office to analyze the data. The agency investigates every airplane crash in the country and tries to establish a cause for each. The purpose, Hicks said, is to "hopefully prevent an accident like this from occurring again."

Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at jvandervelde@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3433. Danny Valentine can be reached at (727) 893-8804 or dvalentine@sptimes.com.

Three killed aboard civilian plane working for MacDill Air Force Base 11/18/10 [Last modified: Thursday, November 18, 2010 11:31pm]

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