Plane crashes carrying 5 Jehovah’s Witness ministers

ELIZABETHTON, Tenn. (AP) — Authorities on Sunday worked to clear a path to the site where a small plane carrying five Jehovah’s Witness ministers crashed in the Cherokee National Forest on Holston Mountain shortly after takeoff.

The single-engine Beech Bonanza crashed around 10:30 a.m. Saturday after leaving the Elizabethton Municipal Airport, according to the Carter County Sheriff’s Department.

Sgt. Patrick Johnson with the department said Sunday that he didn’t believe there were any survivors but that the crash was still being investigated. He said authorities were also trying to confirm if there were other passengers on the plane.

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The aircraft had taken off from Hamblen County prior to landing in Elizabethton to pick up a passenger, and was then destined for Virginia Highlands Airport near Abingdon, Va.

A passing airplane spotted the smoldering wreckage around 7 p.m. Saturday about a mile and a half down the southern side of the mountain in a rugged and remote area, about 10 miles north of Elizabethton, according to the sheriff’s department.

A ground search initiated Saturday night was stalled by darkness. But officials said Sunday that the plane had been found by ground searchers and an attempt was underway to create access and secure the scene until Federal Aviation Administration investigators could arrive.

The names of the ministers were not released.

Robert Burpitt, an elder with the Woodland Heights congregation of Jehovah’s Witness in Kingsport, said the ministers were all from East Tennessee and members of a regional building committee that makes decisions regarding Kingdom Hall building projects.

He said the men were on their way to Abingdon Saturday morning to meet with congregation members from Lebanon, Va., to discuss building a new church there.

“If a congregation wants to build a new kingdon hall, these five men would help organize getting the project done,” Burpitt said. “All of the congregations in this region are devastated by this news, and will continue to keep the families in their prayers.”

The ministers were from Chattanooga, Pigeon Forge, Morristown, Elizabethton and Unicoi County.

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