Tyrone pilot Randy Hunter (bottom right) along with Savannah couple (top right) Byron Cocke and wife Catherine Cocke died when the Beechcraft Bonanza they were in (left) crashed in Bryan County on Aug. 28, 2017.

NTSB explains what caused 2017 plane crash that killed 3 Georgians

Federal aviation investigators determined that an error during maintenance caused a plane to lose power and crash in a wooded swamp outside Savannah in 2017, killing a couple and the pilot.

The National Transportation Safety Board released a report this week explaining the crash that killed Byron Cocke, a prominent 42-year-old metro Atlanta real estate developer, his wife 39-year-old Catherine Cocke, an interior designer once featured on HGTV, and 39-year-old Randy Hunter, of Tyrone.


BACKGROUND | Report offers clues in plane crash that killed 3 Georgians


Hunter was flying the Beechcraft Bonanza, a fixed-wing single-engine aircraft, heading for Cobb County International Airport-McCollum Field.

The report said “during replacement of the engine cylinders, improper torque of the cylinder hold-down bolts and through-studs resulted in an insufficient clamping torque.”

The National Transportation Safety Board said this close-up photo of the engine of a crashed Beechcraft Bonanza shows a bearing that had shifted, which contributed to the crash of the plane, piloted by Randy Hunter. The plane crashed near Savannah in 2017, killing Hunter along with Byron Cocke and Catherine Cocke, a couple aboard. (Courtesy of the National Transportation Safety Board)
Photo: National Transportation Safety Board

John Cox, an aviation accident investigator of 30 years, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that, much like automobiles with a series of pistons and cylinders that move a crank shaft that powers the transmission, the Bonanza has the same system that powers a propeller.

“Oil starvation” of one of the rods caused “a total loss of engine power,”  according to the NTSB report released this week.

Cox said that the type of malfunction that Hunter was dealing with might have not only cut the engine but could have made it harder to see because sometimes oil can splatter on the windshield.

“That means that even an on-airport landing might have been very problematic,” Cox said.

Another issue mentioned in the report was the video map used by Hunter didn’t include a private airstrip that was closer than the one at which an air traffic tower controller directed Hunter to land.

This Beechcraft Bonanza plane piloted by Randy Hunter crashed near Savannah in 2017, killing Hunter along with Byron Cocke and Catherine Cocke, a couple aboard. (Courtesy of the National Transportation Safety Board)
Photo: National Transportation Safety Board

“I’ll probably make it,” Hunter said, according to a transcript of the radio chatter. That was his last communication.

The NTSB explains: “On the basis of the distance that the airplane was able to glide after the pilot declared the emergency, the airplane should have been able to reach the closer airport that was ahead of it. Thus, the omission of this airport on the controller’s (map) resulted in the pilot attempting, at the direction of the controller, to reach an airport that was beyond the airplane's gliding distance.”

Since the crash, the report said, that airfield and several other small airports in Savannah were added to the video map.

“You don’t want to overload people with so much information (on the map), so there’s a balance of how much information you want to display,” Cox said.

When asked how tough a situation it was for Hunter, Cox said:  “All the choices are bad, some are less bad that others. It’s a very tough hand to have to play.”


MORE | Metro Atlanta pilot killed in plane crash with Savannah couple


The Cockes, of Savannah, left behind five children, a spokeswoman with Byron Cocke’s metro Atlanta company CF Real Estate Services previously said.

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.

This Beechcraft Bonanza plane piloted by Randy Hunter crashed near Savannah in 2017, killing Hunter along with Byron Cocke and Catherine Cocke, a couple aboard. (Courtesy of the National Transportation Safety Board)
Photo: National Transportation Safety Board

The website for Catherine Cocke’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.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the Cocke family who also lost two beloved and cherished family members in this tragic accident,” Hunter’s wife said in a statement at the time.

Data specialist Jennifer Peebles contribtued to this report.


An Atlanta couple were killed in a plane crash near Savannah, officials said. Byron Cocke was a prominent metro Atlanta real estate developer. Catherine Cocke was an interior designer featured on HGTV. Police said their plane crashed into a "very heavily wooded area" near the Ogeechee River. Authorities have not released a cause of the crash.

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