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Photo taken from plane that went down in Smokies haunts victim's son

GATLINBURG, Tenn. – The adult son of Kim Smith, one of three people killed when a plane from Lawtey crashed in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, is struggling with the loss.

Garrett Smith flew to Tennessee, after hearing the plane carrying his mother piloted by her boyfriend, David Starling, didn't arrive in Gaitlinburg on Monday evening as expected. Starling's 8-year-old son, Hunter, was also on board. 

The wreckage was found about 24 hours later on the side of a mountain about 15 miles southeast of their destination. A tactical rescue team of the National Park Service recovered their bodies from the rugged terrain Wednesday.

Garrett Smith cannot believe his mother is suddenly gone.

“It’s hard. My mom was my best friend, to say the least, and I didn’t really get to say goodbye,” he told WATE, a Knoxville television station that covers the Gatlinburg area. “She is one in a million. Her heart was bigger than anything I had every known. If she could help someone out, she was there."

Smith thought it was strange that his mom did not text him late Monday to say she landed. He did not talk to her right before or during the flight, but she did send a photo of the view outside the plane to other family members.

“She took a picture of the clouds and said, ‘It’s so pretty up here. It looks like heaven.'” Smith said.

Smith said the photo haunts him because it was like the Lord was sending a signal to everybody. He said it is hard to think that his mom is up there right now.

Other family members were at the Gatlinburg-Pigeon Forge airport waiting for the plane to arrive. They called Smith after learning the plane crashed. 

Smith told the station that David Starling is an experienced pilot, having previously flown for the Air Force. Smith believes this crash is a freak accident. 

“I have flown with David and I trust him 110 percent. I feel like this God’s plan,” Smith said.

He said his mom and Starling had been dating since July, He said Starling made his mom incredibly happy and Hunter Starling was one of the sweetest boys he knew.

Friends of Hunter Starling's mother, Tabitha Starling, have created a GoFundMe account to raise funds to help Tabitha with funeral and other expenses.

The National Transportation Safety Administration is investigating the crash. They said they might have a preliminary report in a week to 10 days, but it could take a year or more to issue a final report on the cause of the crash.