The crash took place on a heavily wooded hillside about two miles north of the Greeneville Municipal Airport shortly before 11 a.m.
A report filed by Deputy Sheriff Randy Christy indicated that he and Deputy Sheriff Robert Livingston responded to a report of a possible airplane crash off Whitehouse Road at 10:52 a.m. Thursday and spotted a hillside about a half-mile off the roadway on fire in the 3000 block of Whitehouse Road.
The pair then confirmed that an airplane had crashed, according to the Sheriff's Department report.
John J. Saunders, 58, who heads a Florida-based financial services company, survived the crash of the twin-engine Cessna 414 airplane that killed his son and three others, authorities said.
The elder Saunders, who is the founder of Saunders Advisory Group, Inc., of Tampa, Fla., was listed in serious condition at the Johnson City Medical Center on Thursday night.
No further information on his condition was available from the hospital this morning, a spokesman said.
His son, John L. Saunders, 40; David Jochman, 49, the plane's pilot; Hani Boutros, 26, an employee of Saunders' company; and Laura Jean Jones, 44, died in the crash, according to Greene County Medical Investigator Ray Crum. All were believed to be residents of the Tampa, Fla., area.
Greeneville business leader Scott M. Niswonger said Thursday that the plane had been bringing officials of the financial services company from Columbus, Ohio, to Greeneville to meet with the management of locally based Forward Air, which he heads, concerning the company's 401(K) plan.
Earlier, the group had conducted a similar meeting in Columbus, Ohio, where Forward Air has extensive operations.
Niswonger confirmed during a telephone interview that the survivor of the crash was John Saunders, the company's founder.
"It's a miracle he survived," Niswonger said after visiting the crash scene. "Our prayers are with his family. They're just wonderful people."
'Worst Air Crash Here'
Greeneville-Greene County Emergency Management Agency Director Bill Brown, who was the first emergency official on the scene, said he believed Thursday's crash was the worst airplane accident ever in Greene County in terms of total deaths.
Sheriff Steve Burns said this morning that he met Thursday night with investigators from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and with a representative of Cessna, the aircraft's manufacturer.
Another meeting was scheduled this morning, the sheriff said.
Following that meeting, federal investigators were expected to go to the crash site to begin trying to determine the cause of the fatal crash.
Sheriff Burns said he had been told that the on-site federal investigation was expected to continue into the weekend.
"It could be Sunday before they're finished," Burns said. "But they could finish sooner."
It appeared at the crash site on Thursday morning that the piston-engine-powered Cessna 414 had plunged almost straight down into the tree-covered top of a ridge off Whitehouse Road.
Jochman, the pilot, had amassed more than 4,700 flying hours during his career, according to his personal site on the World Wide Web.
The Web site indicates that Jochman had been serving as "chief pilot" of the Cessna 414 owned by Saunders Advisory Group, Inc., since Aug. 3 of this year.
He had held a multi-engine flight instructor's rating since August 2001, according to the Web site, which also indicated that Jochman had been named the "2003 Flight Instructor (for the southern U.S.) the Year by the FAA."
Reported at 10:52 A.M.
Speaking at a brief news conference about 12:30 p.m. Thursday at the crash scene, Sheriff Burns said authorities had received a report of a possible plane crash "just off the Whitehouse Road" at 10:52 a.m. Thursday.
Burns said the crash site was about two miles north of the Greeneville Municipal Airport, where the plane had been scheduled to land.
"We do have a plane in woods that has been completely destroyed by fire," Sheriff Burns said at the crash scene. "One individual appears to have been thrown from the plane and is alive at this time. He was flown out (by a medical evacuation helicopter)."
Sheriff Burns said the elder Saunders did not recall how he got out of the wreckage. He said Saunders apparently had been in the co-pilot's seat at the time of the crash.
Niswonger, a licensed pilot himself, said that although Saunders had been sitting in the co-pilot's seat, he did not believe Saunders was actually serving as the co-pilot at the time of the crash.
Niswonger came to the crash scene late Thursday morning and told sheriff's deputies that he "had been expecting some people."
Sheriff's Deputy Mark Crum said that when he and fellow Deputy David Beverly arrived at the crash scene, the airplane was engulfed in flames, making it impossible for them to attempt to rescue any of its occupants.
"The flames were probably going at least 15 feet into the air," Beverly said.
When a Greeneville Sun reporter and photographer team reached the area of the crash, smoke and flames still were visible at the crash site.
Survivor Gave Names
Emergency Management Agency Director Brown said he spoke with the elder Saunders shortly after arriving at the crash scene and that Saunders, although injured, was able to give him the names of all those on board the airplane.
Brown said that when he arrived on the scene, Saunders was lying on the opposite side of a wire fence about 30-40 feet from the burning wreckage. Brown said Saunders apparently had been found by an unidentified bystander.
A Sun reporter at the scene on Thursday saw the injured crash survivor brought from the ridge aboard a Greeneville Emergency & Rescue Squad six-wheeled all-terrain vehicle and taken to a Wings Air Rescue helicopter that had landed in a large hay field at the bottom of the ridge.
"This vehicle has paid for itself today," squad Captain Marty Shelton said of the all-terrain vehicle used to transport equipment and personnel to the crash scene, and to bring Saunders to the waiting medical evacuation helicopter.
Saunders was flown to the Johnson City Medical Center for treatment of his injuries, rescue workers said at the scene.
During his 12:30 p.m. news conference, Burns said a Sheriff's Department crime scene team had been dispatched to the crash location to assist with recovery of bodies and a search of the area.
At about 3:15 p.m. Thursday, the sheriff said four bodies had been recovered from the wreckage by rescue workers and that local Civil Air Patrol members were searching the area around the crash scene for the propellers and other parts of the crashed airplane.
The sheriff said both the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board had been informed of the crash and that both agencies were sending investigators to the scene.
"The NTSB will be here tonight, but it will probably be too late to do anything, so we're just going to secure the scene until tomorrow," the sheriff said on Thursday night.
Icing Possibly Contributed
When asked about a possible cause of the crash on Thursday, the sheriff said early indications were that the airplane "could have hit some ice and been unable to make it to the airport and made a nose dive into this area."
Niswonger said he understood that other pilots had reported encountering "moderate icing" conditions over Northeast Tennessee on Thursday morning.
In response to a reporter's question at the crash scene, Sheriff Burns said he understood that radio transmission from the airplane had indicated that the pilot was experiencing an emergency shortly before the crash took place.
Later, EMA Director Brown said he understood that personnel at the Greeneville Municipal Airport had heard the pilot of the Cessna 414 call out the words "emergency, engine, ice."
Sheriff Burns, this morning, said he also had heard the report of the cryptic radio message and that authorities were checking weather conditions prior to and at the time of the crash in an effort to determine if icing could have contributed to the fatal crash.
Steven Neeson, chief flight instructor at the Greeneville Municipal Airport, said the incoming airplane was attempting "to land to the west on runway 23" at the airport.
Neeson said he heard the airplane pass over the airport and became concerned when it did not land shortly thereafter.
Airport personnel realized there had been a crash when they saw smoke on the horizon a short time after the airplane passed over the airport, he said.
Reports that an airplane had crashed triggered a massive response by Greeneville and Greene County emergency agencies on Thursday morning.
Shortly after the crash, dozens of emergency vehicles and the private vehicles of volunteer firefighters and others covered a large section of a hay field in the 3000 block of Whitehouse Road.
Units of the Greeneville Fire Department and the Tusculum Volunteer Fire Department made their way up what appeared to be an old logging road to the crash site, as did units of the Greeneville Emergency & Rescue Squad.
Marty Shelton, the Rescue Squad's captain, said 13 squad volunteers responded to the scene and helped with rescue and recovery efforts until about 4 p.m. Thursday.
Also on the scene were units of Greene County-Greeneville Emergency Medical Services, the Greeneville Police Department, the Greene County Sheriff's Department, the Greeneville-Greene County Emergency Management Agency, the Greene County Chapter of the American Red Cross and Greene County Medical Investigator Ray Crum.
Sheriff Burns said members of the Greeneville unit of the Civil Air Patrol, sheriff's deputies and volunteers from the Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) organization remained at the crash site overnight to provide security.