Investigators seek cause of plane crash that killed Bluffton man

astice@islandpacket.comJune 11, 2012 

Investigator's in Wrens, Ga. investigate the crashed gyroplane which killed Bluffton resident Christopher William Bowen on Friday.

IMAGE COURTESY RACHEL MOORE, WFX — Image courtesy Rachel Moore, WFX

An investigation into the gyroplane crash that killed a Bluffton man Friday in eastern Georgia is under way.

Christopher William Bowen, 54, was piloting the small lightweight aircraft less than a mile from an airport in Wrens, Ga., when it went down at about 4 p.m. in a cotton field and burst into flames.

Jefferson County emergency crews collected remnants of the aircraft over the weekend and turned them over to the National Transportation Safety Board for examination. The investigation to determine the cause of the crash probably will take weeks, Jefferson County emergency manager Jim Anderson said.

Bowen had been on a test run for about 15 minutes in preparation for the annual "Wrens-O.B. Brown Memorial Fly-In," conducted by Chapter 172 of the Experimental Aircraft Association.

The gyroplane's takeoff is similar to an airplane, and it also gets a lift from a freely turning rotary wing, or rotor blades. The craft also is known as a "gyrocopter."

Event organizers and pilots said gyroplanes are cheaper to fly than a helicopter and are considered safe. Sometimes, as many as 20 gyroplanes are entered in the fly-ins, which attract pilots of small planes, ultralights, paraplanes and other aircraft, according to EAA Chapter 172 secretary John Magnan.

Anderson said Bowen's crash was the first fatal one at the fly-in, which began in the mid-1990s.

Bowen got his student pilot's license in May 2010 and registered the plane a few months later, according to Federal Aviation Administration online records.

Attempts Monday to reach National Transportation Safety Board investigators and Bowen's relatives were unsuccessful.

Funeral arrangements are pending, according to Mellie NeSmith Funeral Home of Claxton, Ga.

The Augusta (Ga.) Chronicle contributed to this report.

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