- Ben Brasch The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
A prominent metro Atlanta real estate developer and his wife, an interior designer featured on HGTV, were on a charter plane that crashed near Savannah on Monday, killing them and the pilot, officials confirmed.
Byron Cocke, 42, and Catherine Cocke, 39, died when the plane crashed in a “very heavily wooded area” of Bryan County about 150 feet from the Ogeechee River, said Freddy Howell, director of emergency services in Bryan.
He identified the pilot as Randy Hunter of Tyrone, where records show he lived off of Palmetto Road.
Howell said he spoke on Tuesday with Hunter’s wife, who was doing her best to process the situation.
“Our hearts are heavy for everyone involved,” he said.
A Chatham County Mosquito Control helicopter found the downed Beechcraft Bonanza, a fixed-wing single-engine aircraft built in 1994, about 11:20 a.m. on Monday, nearly two hours after being notified that it had crashed, Howell said.
Kathleen Bergen, a spokeswoman with the Federal Aviation Administration, said the plane was flying to Cobb County International Airport-McCollum Field from Savannah International Airport when it crashed.
That contradicts earlier information given to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution from local authorities that the plane had been flying into Atlanta Regional Airport-Falcon Field in Peachtree City.
Soon after Hunter took off, he radioed to air traffic controllers in Savannah saying he was having mechanical trouble and wanted to return, said John Brannen, an investigator with the National Transportation Safety Board.
The plane disappeared off the radar at 8:39 a.m., Brannen told media Tuesday.
Howell said the couple was known in the Savannah area, where they lived full-time, though they had ties to metro Atlanta.
The husband is the co-founder and co-CEO of CF Real Estate Services, a company that formed from a 2013 merger between Cocke Finkelstein, Inc., and Atlanta-based Lane Company, according to its website.
CF Real Estate has properties as far north as Michigan, but is responsible for several metro Atlanta housing projects, including The Lofts at Atlantic Station and Olmsted Chamblee, which features a big sign of the city’s name.
Emergency officials weren’t sure whether the couple was flying for business from Savannah, where the company has a student-centric apartment complex named The Hue.
The company’s other co-founder Brett Finkelstein released a statement Tuesday about the couple’s death.
“We are devastated by this tragic loss. They were philanthropic, creative, intelligent, caring and entrepreneurial,” the statement reads in part.
Finkelstein said the couple had five children, who are now being cared for by extended family.
The website for the wife’s interior design business said she was featured on a 2011 episode of HGTV’s “My Big Amazing Renovation,” titled “Going Big in Georgia” showing her 18-month renovation of the couple’s 1950s home.
The Savannah Downtown Neighborhood Association also posted a statement about the couple’s death on its website. The statement said one member of the couple was part of the association’s board but didn’t say which.
“The Savannah community has lost a shining light in this beautiful couple and while our hearts are heavy, we ask for prayers for their surviving five children.”
Eric Weiss, a spokesman with NTSB, said Tuesday that after investigators document the crash site, contractors will move the plane to Griffin by Wednesday. There, staff will take apart the aircraft to review its systems.
Investigators will interview witnesses, look at radar data, listen to audio recordings from air traffic controllers and assess the weather at the time of the crash.
The engine will be broken down at a facility in Mobile, Alabama, to determine whether there was a malfunction, he said.
In other news: