James Ford Seale


Seale Gives Eye-Witness Account on Crash

James Seale, lone survivor of the two-plane crash that killed five persons here Wednesday, said Monday only a control tower could have prevented the tragedy.

"It just wasn't my time to go," explained the 35-year-old Natchez pilot whose life was spared when his single-engine Cessna miraculously landed on the airstrip at the Concordia Airport after colliding with a twin-engine Bonanza.

Seale, hospitalized in a state of shock after the crash, was interviewed Monday by The Sentinel. His account disclosed details surrounding the tragedy that claimed the lives of Dr. Charles Colvin, 42; Ferriday; Chris Cumbus, Natchez; Steve DuCrest, 31, St. Joseph; Linda McClendon, 24, Montgomery, Ala., and her cousin, Barbara Ann Coggins, 30, Bessermar, Ala.

Seale is the only known eye-witness to the crash. This is what he said happened.

It was about 7 .a.m., and Seale, en route to Mississippi, was taking off toward the Mississippi River.

This is Seale's account:

"The airport is uncontrolled and the office at Jordan Aircraft was not open. I was going south from Vidalia to Lake Mary near Woodville Miss. to pick up a farmer to take him over into the Louisiana side of the Mississippi River to check on some cotton pickers he had running over there. When I lined up to take off, there were no other aircraft in the area that I could see, none in the pattern that I could see. Conditions were VFR, with only patches and streaks of ground fog. Around the airport it was hazy. I could see the towers at the river and they are about three miles away.

"I had my radio on and monitoring 122.8 at the time. I heard no activity on the radio at 122.8. I started my take-off roll with full power and I rolled approximately one-third of the runway before rotating. I made a normal take-off. After lift-off and just seconds afterwards, I suddenly saw a twin-engine aircraft on a collision course with me. I would estimate that I was about midway of the runway (50 to 70 feet off the ground). The twin was about 20 to 25 feet from me coming straight head-on toward me and when I saw it I immediately pushed my controls forward to a dive, but it was not in time to avoid the collision. At the time I was following the center line of the runway, slightly to my left, and the twin was flying to his left of the center line of the runway or to the south of the center line. When impact occurred I was ducking and the next thing I realized was being on the runway and skidding. At the time I saw the twin I would judge that we were right wing to right wing with the fuselages close together. Just what collided with what, I can't say for sure. I would have been under the right wing of the twin, but I could not tell for certain that the twin was in level flight or descending or for that matter whether or not the twin was in a turn or not."

Seale said he got out of his plane on the runway and looked up to see the Bonanza over a wooded area nearby. Apparently the Bonanza, flown by Cumbus, followed the runway after the collision and flew straight over the woods. Scale said the Bonanza began to make a right turn obviously to return for another attempt to land.

"At the time I didn't think there was anything wrong with the Bonanza," Seale said. "It looked like he was going to make it back."

"I would say it was well above the trees at the west end of the field, probably 250 feet high. It continued in the right turn and as it got behind the trees at the west end of the field it banked to a greater degree and the nose began to drop. I could not see the twin go into the ground, because of the trees obstructing my view. I could not tell nor can I say whether both engines were running or not. There was a somewhat muffled noise when the twin hit the ground and when it dropped out of my line of sight I started running toward the hanger where I forced the door to the office open and called the police, informing them of the crash and for them to send fire trucks and an ambulance. I then got into my car and drove around the road to where the twin had hit.

"Before I got there I could see the fire and smoke. When I got to the aircraft it was burning so profusely that I could not get close to it. I did get close enough to see that there was no one thrown out of the aircraft but I could not tell who was in it for the fire.

"I could do nothing but wait for.the police and ambulance."

Fred Schiele, owner of the Bonanza, said he had loaned the aircraft to Dr. Colvin to make a deer hunt in Texas. Schiele said Dr. Colvin was planning to leave Wednesday morning on the trip.

"They left in it early that morning and were coming back in," Schiele said. "Why? we don't know."

Seale said he could tell, after climbing out of his own plane, that Cumbus was making a valiant effort to get the plane safely back to ground. Cumbus was an experienced pilot and flew Schiele's craft often.

"He was milking it for everything it was worth," Seale said.

When the collision happened Seale said he couldn't tell whose plane the Bonanza was or who was in it. He said he realized it belonged to Schiele when he approached the crash scene, but still didn't know who was on board.

Seale called Schiele from the airport, and Schiele and John McPhail of Vidalia arrived shortly. McPhail took Seale to the Jefferson Davis Hospital. He was released later in day.

"The only thing that could have prevented the collision would have been a control tower," Seale said.

The airport, which is not large enough for an FAA control tower, was not open at that time of the morning when the collision occurred.

The FAA investigated the collision, but hasn't released its official report.

The bodies of Dr. CoIvin, Cumbus and DuCrest were identified officially by Dr. William Polk, Concordia coroner, later in the morning but the bodies of the other victims couldn't be identified until Thursday morning after records were checked in Alabama.

Cumbus was flying Dr. Colvin and DuCrest to Montgomery to pick up two doctor friends of Dr. Colvin and from there the five men planned to fly on to Texas for the hunt.

Dr. Polk, commenting on details of the accident, said the Alabama women were friends of DuCrest, who had made arrangement for them to fly from Concordia to Montgomery on board the Bonanza before the men continued on to Texas.

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