The pilot who died in the crash of a small, single-engine airplane that took off from the Statesboro-Bulloch County Airport about 9:21 p.m. Tuesday was Catherine “Cathy” Kloess, a skydiving company owner who had spoken publicly to the Bulloch County Board of Commissioners about three hours earlier.
Kloess, 61, of Zephyrhills, Florida, owned The Jumping Place, which was previously based at the Statesboro airport.
The Cessna 182 crashed in a grassy field or vacant lot about two miles south of the airport and near Jones Mill Road, apparently about three minutes after takeoff, according to Senior Air Safety Investigator Adam Gerhardt from the National Transportation Safety Board.
“We have surveillance radar that shows that the airplane departed the airport about 9:21 p.m., and the end of the radar data is at 9:24 p.m., so about a three-minute flight,” Gerhardt said. “There is no known contact, right now, that the pilot had with air traffic control, so I want to stress that we are in the preliminary, fact-finding stage of the investigation.”
After arriving Wednesday morning to lead the crash investigation, Gehardt spoke to reporters in a brief press conference, organized by the Bulloch County Sheriff’s Office, mid-afternoon near the crash site.
He did not identify Kloess, but Bulloch County Coroner Jake Futch, who pronounced her dead at the scene Tuesday night, confirmed her identity Wednesday after members of her family had been notified. Kloess’ body will be sent to a Georgia Bureau of Investigation lab, Futch said.
She was the sole occupant of the plane.
The NTSB, Gerhardt said, investigates every civil aircraft accident in the United States, and he will be assisted by a team from the Federal Aviation Administration and Textron, the aerospace manufacturing company that now owns the Cessna label
For the NTSB’s comprehensive report, investigators will look at the airplane and its control surfaces, its engine, environmental factors such as weather, and pilot qualifications. A meteorologist will also perform an analysis of the exact weather conditions, Gerhardt said.
“Preliminary data suggests there was an overcast cloud layer, but we have a lot more information to delve into of exactly what the weather conditions were, and that is a standard component of every NTSB investigation,” he said in response to a reporter’s question.
Another asked if the pilot had filed a flight plan indicating where she was going. Gerhardt said the NTSB had no information yet that there was a flight plan but that one could exist somewhere within the FAA’s jurisdiction and that investigators will find it if it exists.
With the Sheriff’s Office protecting the site, the federal investigators will remove the wreckage, over probably the next two days, to a secure facility in Griffin, Georgia, for detailed examination. The NTSB will typically issue a “factual preliminary investigation” report within about 10 days, but the final report typically takes 12 to 18 months to complete, Gerhardt said.
Conflict with county
Kloess’ company, the Jumping Place, provided skydiving lessons and experiences out of the Statesboro-Bulloch County Airport for about nine years. But the Bulloch County Board of Commissioners on Oct. 5, 2021 voted unanimously to terminate the company’s lease of hangar space.
In a Sept. 15 letter addressed to Kloess and signed by Board of Commissioners Chairman Roy Thompson, the county government alleged violations of the airport’s standard operating procedures and cited reports by airport personnel of skydivers or their family members wandering into restricted areas and touching other pilots’ planes.
Kloess had challenged these reports and asserted that the right of all types of users to an airport that receives federal funding was being denied to The Jumping Place. She spoke to the commissioners one hour into Tuesday’s regular meeting, which began at 5:30 p.m., demanding that they reverse their decision and allow the skydiving company to return.