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SPRINGFIELD, N.J. (CBS) — The National Transportation Safety Board says no distress call was made before a small plane crashed in Burlington County, New Jersey killing two people on Wednesday.
The victims were pilot Robert Winner, 69, of Marlton, and Winner’s friend and co-pilot Timothy Scannevin, 71, of Southampton. Officials say the men were on an “angel flight” as volunteers to pick up patients needing care in Massachusetts.
“He will be truly missed and it’s hard to believe that this happened,” said Elaine Gaynor, who was a friend of Winner.
The crash happened near the 1100 block of Smithville Jacksonville Road in Springfield, around 9 a.m. Investigators say the small Beechcraft Baron aircraft crashed just after taking off from South Jersey Regional Airport.
Tim Monville, a senior air safety investigator with the NTSB, says the plane impacted an open field and struck several trees after it vanished from radar sometime before 9:10 a.m.
“There was no distress call made by the pilot about any issues with the airplane,” said Monville. “The airplane is fragmented. There is no evidence of a pre-impact or post-impact crash fire.”
Witnesses describe hearing the moments before the twin-engine, six-seat plane went down.
“I heard something like a plane coming in fast like it was crashing,” said James DiCioccio. “It looked like it was trying to make an emergency landing from what I’ve seen. It was low—the trees low, and it skimmed across the road and landed on the other side.”
Witness photos show the widespread debris field as the plane appeared to slice through trees, carve a path through a field, before crashing on the other side of Jacksonville Road.
“He was not looking for applauds or pats on the back. He just liked helping people and that’s what he did. He help many many people over the years with the angel flights,” said Gaynor.
Friends and neighbors Elaine and Kipp Gaynor flew with Winner and his wife while on vacation in Florida last year.
Winner was one of 400 Angel Flight East pilots. He completed 16 flights since 2013.
Winner, a retired dairy farmer, leaves behind two children, three grandsons and his wife of 47 years.
The NTSB has not yet determined a cause. Their findings will be released in a preliminary report in the coming days.