Dr. Harvey Partridge and Patricia Partridge, both 72, of Terra Ceia, Florida, died when their small plane crashed Sunday night on approach to Raleigh-Durham International Airport, airport officials said in a statement.
A friend said Harvey Partridge was an experienced pilot who had been flying for decades and used the same single-engine plane recently to fly an ailing rescue dog for life-saving surgery. "He was just so compassionate. Just an amazing veterinarian. It's a devastating loss, a huge loss for humanity," said Jaime McKnight, who runs a St. Petersburg pet rescue and used to work at Partridge's animal hospital.
Airport officials said search crews found the missing plane near a trail in William B. Umstead State Park around 10 a.m. Monday, more than 12 hours after authorities began combing the densely forested park adjacent to the airport.
The Federal Aviation Administration said air traffic controllers lost radar contact with the Piper PA32 at about 7:25 p.m. Sunday as it approached Runway 32, the smallest of three landing strips and perpendicular to what the airport considers its primary runway. The FAA website said the model of single-engine plane typically has around six seats.
Rescuers from at least a dozen state and local agencies spent the night searching in and around the park, a 5,600-acre (2,260-hectare) wooded expanse bounded by an interstate, the airport and a state highway. The park remained closed Monday, and people were asked to avoid the area while authorities secured the crash site.
The National Transportation Safety Board is leading the investigation into the crash. An NTSB spokesman said he didn't expect to release further information Monday. Harvey Partridge ran a veterinary clinic in St. Petersburg, Florida, and a statement from his office called him "a truly wonderful doctor and advocate for animals."
The statement also said Partridge owned the aircraft. FAA records show that Harvey Partridge was certified to fly single- and multi-engine planes as a private pilot. McKnight, who runs the Pawlicious Poochie Pet Rescue from the animal hospital, said that Partridge provided medical care for her rescues. Last year, a French bulldog named Jaxson had a hole in his heart — and Dr. Partridge flew McKnight and the dog up to Gainesville for life-saving surgery.
"He was the most generous person. And his wife was just as amazing," she said. "Everyone's reeling from the shock." Airport spokesman Crystal Feldman said Sunday night that the dense woods and darkness hindered initial phases of the search, which included helicopters scanning for signs of heat coming from the wreck.
Air operations were halted at the busy airport for about 20 minutes Sunday night as firefighting and rescue units rushed to the wooded area. That caused a number of commercial flights into the airport to be delayed or diverted until regular operations resumed.
Lush reported from St. Petersburg.
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