Mary Jo Yarbrough and Dexter Lee Gresham were killed July 1 in a plane crash in Murray County. (Credit: Channel 2 Action News)

NTSB: Engines failed before plane crash killed couple, grandchildren

Weeks after a Tennessee couple and their two grandchildren were killed in a plane crash, a preliminary report revealed the plane’s engines failed the morning before it disintegrated in an intense storm.

The National Transportation Safety Board released the report Tuesday on the crash in Murray County July 1.

READ: The NTSB’s report

“Instrument meteorological conditions prevailed and no flight plan was filed,” an NTSB official said in the report. 

The crash killed Dexter Lee Gresham, 55, and Mary Jo Yarbrough, 61, both of Etowah, Tenn., and Austin Day, 10, and Kinsley Wilson, 10, both of Corinth, Miss., Murray County Coroner Jason Gibson said.

Gresham, the pilot, was married to Yarbrough, and the kids were Yarbrough's grandchildren, Channel 2 Action News reported. 

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The Murray County Sheriff's Office confirmed the twin-engine Piper PA-23, N44HJ, crashed near Piney Hill Road and Old Highway 411 in Ramhurst, just south of Chatsworth, just before 4:45 p.m.

A twin-engine plane crashed July 1 on Piney Hill Road in Murray County, killing all four people aboard. (Credit: Channel 2 Action News)

Gresham had a current pilot’s license in Tennessee.

According to the NTSB report, Gresham and his family were returning to Tennessee after a weeklong trip to Alabama. 

They initially took off the morning of July 1 at Moton Field Municipal Airport in Tuskegee, Ala., but had to land again to refuel.

After the airplane was fueled with about 45 gallons of aviation gasoline, the pilot then struggled for about five minutes to start the engines, according to the report.

A service technician asked if he needed assistance, and the pilot responded: 

"No, we're good ... she does this when the engines get too hot," according to the report.

The pilot tried to start the engines a few more times, even trying unsuccessfully to use the airport’s vehicle charger.

At that point, one of the field tenants offered the pilot use of a battery charger, and the airplane was towed into a hangar for charging, according to the report

The gauge on the charger showed the battery would take two hours to charge, so the pilot and his family decided to get something to eat.

When they returned, the group boarded the plane and took off, according to the report.

According to the Federal Aviation Administration, “the pilot was not receiving radar services, nor was he in communication with air traffic control” during the flight.

Witnesses in the area told federal investigators they saw signs of a storm approaching and could hear thunder in the distance, according to the NTSB report. 

Soon, they heard a loud "boom" and saw pieces of the airplane and personal belongings falling out of the clouds. 

One of the witnesses, not identified in the report, watched as the airplane came "tumbling and spinning" out of the sky.

Radar data showed the airplane lost radar contact during the storm.

When the airplane was out of view, the witness called local authorities, according to the report.

Debris from the wreckage was scattered about 1 mile, landing in dense vegetation.

Debris from the wreckage was scattered about 1 mile, landing in dense vegetation. (Credit: Channel 2 Action News)

Among the debris were fragments of the right and left wings of the plane, according to the report. The right engine, which was separated from the wing, was at the end of the debris path, according to the report. 

The cockpit, cabin section, engines and other parts of the plane were destroyed.

The crash site is about 85 miles north of Atlanta. 

In other news:

Channel 2's Steve Gehlbach reports.

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