Three people and a dog were killed Tuesday afternoon in a crash of a small airplane east of Springfield.
While investigators would not release the names of the victims, multiple sources with knowledge of the crash identified two victims as Frank and Cinda Edwards of Springfield. Frank Edwards was a former Springfield mayor, fire chief and alderman. His wife, Cinda Edwards, was Sangamon County coroner. The identity of the third victim was not immediately confirmed.
Public safety officials confirmed that the plane, a twin-engine Piper Aerostar, went down shortly after 3 p.m. in a field near White Timber Road, which is in unincorporated Sangamon County between Springfield and Rochester. The plane was heading inbound toward Abraham Lincoln Capital Airport.
The Federal Aviation Administration was at the crash site Tuesday evening along with the coroner’s office. The National Transportation Safety Board also was expected to arrive within the next 12-18 hours to investigate.
Frank Edwards, 69, served on the Springfield Fire Department for 25 years before he retired in 2002, having served his final 19 months as chief. He was Ward 1 alderman on the Springfield City Council from 2003 to 2015 — except for the few months he served as mayor after the December 2010 death of Mayor Tim Davlin. He also ran for mayor last spring, losing a bid to unseat Mayor Jim Langfelder.
Cinda Edwards, 63, was a nurse and Lincoln Land Community College trustee when she was appointed county coroner in 2011. She had been a nurse with administrative responsibilities at Priority Care Clinics and had earlier spent eight years working in the emergency room at St. John’s Hospital in Springfield.
The plane crashed within 75 feet of a residence, said Sangamon County Sheriff Jack Campbell at a news conference Tuesday evening at Grace Bible Chapel near Rochester.
Rochester police and fire departments were first to respond, Campbell said. The Sangamon County Rescue Squad, Abraham Lincoln Capital Airport Police and the Springfield Police Department also assisted.
Campbell said that the FAA air traffic control tower reported to sheriff’s deputies that the pilot communicated that he was having problems with “weather and instruments.” The NTSB will conduct a full crash investigation, he said.
According to flight logs tracked by global aviation company FlightAware, the plane took off from Sarasota/Bradenton International Airport in Florida around 9:33 a.m. Tuesday, arriving at Huntsville International Airport in Alabama around 12:18 p.m. The plane then took off at 1:02 p.m.
Springfield Airport Authority executive director Mark Hanna said FAA officials based in Springfield informed airport officials that the plane had crashed about 7 miles to the southeast at 3:09 p.m.
The plane is owned by LKJ Properties, a limited liability corporation based in Springfield.
Residents in the area said they heard “a loud boom” as the plane crashed.
“I was sitting in my chair in the living room. I heard the explosion and thought it was an unusual sound,” said Ward 1 Ald. Chuck Redpath, who lives near the scene. “I ran over to the crash site and the plane was already engulfed when I got there. There were a handful of people, police officers and the fire department, on the scene already. The flames were so high, about 30 feet that no one was getting close. It was a scene you don’t want to see.”
Christin Goldsberry also heard the crash.
“I was in my house when I heard a loud boom,” said Goldsberry, who lives on White Timber Road. “I didn’t think anything of it because the Southfork Gun Club is right back there. Roughly 10 minutes after the first boom, I heard another and then I saw a black smoke rolling out from behind the two houses behind me.”
The Edwardses also owned Springfield Auto Body and Towing.
Frank Edwards said that as mayor, he was able to get the city back on a strong financial footing without adding any taxes or fees. He often talked of the need for getting government spending under control.
Even when he was out of city government, he viewed public office as a way to bring about change. In 2009, he explored a run for the Republican nomination for governor. As part of that effort, he paid $5,000 for a 1962 firetruck from a department in a small town in Tennessee, and emblazoned the slogan “Had Enough?” along with his web address on the truck’s 65-foot boom.
Signage also identified Edwards as an “Average Guy.”
“That’s probably the most important,” he said at the time.
When Cinda Edwards took over as coroner, she said she would “work diligently with staff to earn the public’s trust.” Top county officials had earlier threatened to eliminate the coroner’s office over issues including use of a controversial pathologist.
After easily winning a full term in 2012, she said: “I give a lot of credit to my staff. I think we’re restoring faith in the office and taking it forward in the right direction.”
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Other area fatal plane crashes in recent years:
• Aug. 11, 2012: Pilot Brandon Sparrow of Augusta was the lone fatality when a twin-engine Beechcraft 18, which had been carrying skydivers, crashed in the back yard of a home at 801 W. Rich St., Taylorville, at 11:25 a.m. The skydivers had jumped out of the plane and all landed safely.
• Dec. 20, 2007: Three people were killed in a field west of Springfield when a single-engine, four-seat Beechcraft V35B Bonanza went down just before 3:30 p.m. near Old Route 54 and Farmingdale Road outside Curran, on its final approach to Abraham Lincoln Capital Airport. Pilot Ray Wright of Rochester and his passengers the Revs. John Crabtree and Rick Hohimer, both of Springfield, were killed.
• July 7, 2006: George D. Moon of Loami was found dead in the wreckage of an airplane he build from a kit, in a cornfield 50 feet off Berlin Tower Road, about a mile west of the Pleasant Plains-New Berlin blacktop. The plane had been missing since the night before.
• Oct. 30, 1997: Six Missouri men died in a New Berlin crash near Interstate 72 in western Sangamon County when their six-seater twin-engine Beechcraft Baron 58 went down. The six were employees of a Malden, Missouri, construction firm flying home from a job in Macomb. The accident was within a half-mile of New Berlin High School, where the football team was practicing at the time.