Donna Thornton – The Gadsden Times

Family members described the man killed Saturday when his small plane crashed in Sand Valley as an experienced pilot who have been flying for decades, Sheriff Jonathon Horton said.

Elliott George Charles Leadlay, of Merritt Island, Florida, was flying home from Kentucky, where he’d been visiting a friend, according to aviation officials and family members. 

The first call came at 12:53 p.m., the sheriff said, from people living in the Buster Willett Road and Sand Valley Road area, saying they’d heard an airplane engine, followed by a loud bang or boom.

Deputies had been dispatched and were searching in the area when a second call came, Horton said in a press release, at 1:06 p.m. from a citizen who reported finding the crash site in the 200 block of Kelley Lane, off Sand Valley Road.

Horton said first responders arrived at a large debris field and found one person, deceased. They used the identifying number from the plane to trace it to Kentucky; a  prosthetic limb helped with positive identification of the pilot.

The sheriff’s office, Sand Valley Fire Department and surrounding fire departments, Gadsden/Etowah County Emergency Management Agency and the Etowah County Coroner’s Office responded to the scene. Horton said deputies would secure the site until the investigation into the crash was complete.

Linda Naylor said her family heard the crash from 3 miles away. There was a boom, she said, and they questioned what it might be. They thought it was thunder, given the day’s rainy weather.

“My mother lives closer. She said she heard it clipping the trees when it went down,” Naylor said.

Another nearby resident was not home when the crash occurred. She said she came home when she learned of it, fearing it might have hit her house.

Despite the tragedy, Horton said it was fortunate the crash was in an open field so there were no other injuries, and the crash site was easy to get to.

In September, the sheriff’s office and other agencies were involved in a search for a missing plane in heavily wooded terrain. The pilot, a 76-year-old Georgia man, was found dead at the scene of the crash off Old Baker Gap Road in west Etowah County.

Horton said the Federal Aviation Administration will assist in the investigation into the cause of the crash. He expressed his “sincere appreciation” to observant nearby residents who reported the crash and helped to locate the aircraft.