Alabama and Tennessee authorities are investigating a plane crash in far northwest Alabama that killed a 69-year-old Tennessee man Wednesday as he was flying home from visiting family and friends around the country.
Family of the pilot, identified as 69-year-old Jerel Zarestky of Oak Ridge, Tennessee, contacted the Oak Ridge Police Department at about 8:40 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 7, after Mr. Zaretsky failed to arrive as expected. Family members said he was due to arrive at 4 p.m. but never showed up or called to say he was delayed.
Oak Ridge police were able to ping his cell phone several times, allowing them and a number of other agencies to locate the plane crash site. Also involved in the search and rescue effort were the Alabama State Police, Air Force Search and Rescue, Hardin County (Tenn.) Fire and 911 and Florence (Ala.) EMS.
According to Huntsville, Alabama’s WHNT News 19, Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA) responders searching the area by helicopter located the airplane wreckage around 11:30 Wednesday night. Mr. Zaretsky’s body was later removed from the plane crash site in woods about a half-mile from the nearest dirt road near a wildlife management area. He was the only person aboard the two-seat private airplane when it crashed.
Mr. Zaretsky’s daughters, Caitlin Sale and Jill Zarestky, told Knoxville, Tennessee’s WATE-TV that their father was an experiential physicist who worked with the Oak Ridge National Laboratory before he retired within the last 10 years.
His daughters said he was very meticulous with everything he did, including in checking his plane before flights.
Ms. Sale told WATE that she “wholeheartedly trusted” her father flying a plane.
“We don’t have any closure on what happened … he’s so meticulous,” she told WATE. “He’s so regimented and checking and double-checking, triple-checking everything. What could’ve happened?” Sale asked.
According to his family, Mr. Zaretsky had flown to Iowa to visit his brother and other family members. From there he went to Colorado to visit his daughter. He then went to New Mexico to visit a friend and from there flew to Texas. He was flying to Knoxville from Dallas, Texas, when the crash occurred.
Officials in Lauderdale County told reporters that the cause of the crash is under investigation and it’s not clear what happened. An autopsy was planned to determine whether Mr. Zaretsky suffered from a medical emergency of some sort that could have caused him to lose control of the plane.
Investigators will also look into other factors such as weather conditions in the area at the time of the crash, airplane maintenance records, and mechanical failure in the aircraft.
Beasley Allen lawyer Mike Andrews focuses much of his practice on aviation litigation. Mike has represented people seriously injured in a variety of aviation crashes similar to the one described in this story, and the families of those killed in both civilian and military airplane crashes and helicopter crashes. He currently represents families of Ethiopian Airlines flight 302 victims involving the Boeing 737 MAX aircraft.
Additional source: WBIR News 10