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Pilot breaks down tape of crew talking to air traffic control before crashing into Percy Priest Lake

Airplane components, human remains found Sunday
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Posted at 11:39 AM, May 31, 2021

SMYRNA, Tenn. (WTVF) — The reason a small jet plummeted into Percy Priest Lake on Saturday morning is still a mystery, but a recording indicates air traffic control lost contact with the pilot very early on.

In a recording obtained by NewsChannel5 Investigates, the pilot only has a few exchanges with ATC at Smyrna / Rutherford County Airport before the dialogue cuts off.

"66BravoKilo. Do you copy you're heading 130?," said the air traffic controller.

"130 66BravoKilo," said the pilot, the last the tower hears from the plane.

All seven people on board the Cessna C501, including Remnant Fellowship Church founder Gwen Shamblin Lara, are presumed dead.

NewsChannel5 Sky 5 pilot Lance Pugliese listened to the exchanges on the ATC radio recording.

"I wouldn't have listened to that and thought anything was out of the ordinary," said Lance Pugliese.

Pugliese said the pilot did not make any distress calls over the radio.

"He's never indicating that he's going to be unable to comply with any of the instructions, which would be your first indication that he isn't going to do it," Pugliese said.

Despite the steady voice of the pilot, he never responds to ATC when asked to climb to 15,000 feet.

"66BravoKilo climbing to maintain 1-5000, 15,000?" said ATC.

The air traffic controller asks four times for confirmation.

"66BravoKilo, how do you hear," the air traffic controller is heard asking.

Pugliese said it is common that ATC has to repeat an instruction or question, but this part of the recording was unusual.

"Sometimes you have passengers in the back or other air traffic you're hearing that can make you forget to reply, but that amount of requests would be unusual. After he had given him the instruction to climb and maintain 15,000, that amount of requests, asking if he copied, I would say would be unusual," Pugliese said.

At one point of the recording a faint alarm is audible. Some pilots told NewsChannel 5 that it sounded unusual, while others suggested such sounds would be expected after takeoff.

The morning after the crash, multiple agencies searched a debris field about 0.5 mile wide. According to Rutherford County authorities, divers recovered human remains and components of the aircraft. The recovery operation is expected to continue Monday.

The NTSB continues to investigate the reason behind the crash.