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Georgia skydiving plane crash kills Army soldier, 3 civilians

The East Georgia Regional Airport. (City of Swainsboro/Released)
August 27, 2018

A small plane crashed at a rural Georgia airport over the weekend, and one of the victims has been identified as a member of the U.S. military.

Aliaksandr “Slex” Bahrytsevich, 31, was one of the five passengers on a skydiving plane that crashed at the end of the runway during takeoff, according to a Fox News report on Sunday.

Bahrytsevich was off duty at the time of the crash. He served on The Golden Knights, the Parachute Team of the U.S. Army, based out of Fort Bragg. He was originally from Belarus, and is said to be survived by his parents, Nattallia and Mikhail.

Four of the five passengers were killed. The lone survivor was transported to a trauma center in Augusta in critical condition.

A statement by the U.S. Army Golden Knights, posted on Facebook, called Bahrytsevich “extremely passionate about the sport of skydiving and always sought opportunities to coach and mentor other members of the team.”

“Alex served the U.S. Army with distinction and pride,” the statement added.

The plane, a 1958 Cessna, belonged to Statesboro, Ga. skydiving company called The Jumping Place.

The company also released a statement via Facebook: “Today we have suffered an enormous loss. NTSB will be investigating the crash. We’ve lost loved ones. Please be respectful of loved ones.”

The names of the three other victims were released Monday, according to local news outlet WRDW. They include Justin Duff, 41, of Statesboro, Ga.; Andrew Swenson, 23, or South Daytona Beach, Fla.; and Chris Eldridge, 42, of Rincon, Ga.

The survivor, William Middlebrooks, was updated to seriously injured condition as of Monday.

Emanuel County Sheriff Tyson Stephens said, “Sad day I tell you,” during a press conference. “It’s sad that it happened so close to emergency services but still wound up such a terrible tragedy because so much of it was actually hopeless.”

“This is the worst crash, as far as fatalities are concerned with aircrafts, in my 34 years as Sheriff of Emanuel County,” he added.

A witness at the country club across the street described hearing suspicious engine sounds and warning those nearby that the plane would crash, WRDW reported.

“He was coming across and all of a sudden we heard the engines go down,” said Joan Nasworthy.  “I said, ‘Something is wrong with that plane, y’all need to get out of the pool,’ Well then, in no time we could hear the engine stall and once the engine installed, I took out running because I knew they were fixing to crash.”

The National Transportation Safety Board and local Emanuel County Sheriff’s Office cleared debris from the scene on Sunday afternoon, and both agencies are investigating the incident.