Beaufort News

Fripp Island man only occupant of ill-fated flight

Aiken County authorities confirmed Friday that a 49-year-old Fripp Island homeowner was the lone victim of a plane crash Thursday near the Aiken Municipal Airport.

Stephen Bruce Radke was the only passenger on the Cessna 210 when the fixed-wing plane took off Thursday morning from the Beaufort County Airport on Lady's Island bound for Aiken, said Aiken County Coroner Tim Carlton.

Carlton said Radke planned to meet friends at the Aiken airport to work on the plane's instruments before returning to Beaufort to pick up his wife and fly to Florida.

The modifications were not essential to the plane's operation and likely did not cause the crash, Carlton said.

About 9:30 a.m., Radke flew into a thunderstorm near Aiken that packed strong wind gusts, heavy rain and thick fog, reducing visibility to 300 to 500 feet, Carlton said.

Radke radioed an air traffic control tower in nearby Augusta, Ga., to report he would not be landing in Aiken and would instead return to Beaufort.

He never made it home.

Radke's plane soon began losing altitude and crashed about 9:36 a.m., according to a Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman.

"When he made that turn (to fly back to Beaufort), he might have made too tight a turn and became disoriented," Carlton said Friday.

A spokesman for the Aiken County Sheriff's Office has said the plane made no distress call before going down in a wooded area about two miles from the Aiken airport.

Carlton said Radke was thought to be in good health and had been a pilot for about four years.

"His brother was a pilot, his dad was a pilot, and everyone I've talked to said he was a good pilot," Carlton said. "I think it's safe to say that the weather was a major contributing factor in this crash."

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating.

No one answered a phone call to Radke's Fripp Island residence, which he has owned since 2000, according to county tax records. Attempts Friday to reach his neighbors were unsuccessful.

Paul Field knew Radke, who owned NautiOtter Adventures, a Fripp Island Jet-Ski business Radke started in June with his wife, Kim.

"He was a very bright young man," said Field, skipper of Fripp Island Sea Rescue. "He was a very hard worker and extremely well-liked on the island. It's unbelievable. Everyone's just in shock."