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Officials ID pilot in fatal Camp Blanding crash

Pilot only person on board; FAA investigating

CLAY COUNTY, Fla. – Authorities on Friday confirmed the identity of the pilot killed when a single-engine plane went down Thursday afternoon inside Camp Blanding.

The Clay County Sheriff's Office confirmed pilot, Herman E. Steele, 49, of Tennessee died in the crash. 

Steele was the only person on board, according to a Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman.

FAA officials said they were notified that a Mooney M20 aircraft went down at Camp Blanding in Clay County about 3:15 p.m. Thursday. Clay County deputies said it was a private plane, not a military aircraft. Camp Blanding is off State Road 16 near Kingsley Lake.

Authorities said Steele had taken off from Cecil Field in Jacksonville and dropped off three passengers in Ocala. He was on the return flight to Cecil Field when he sent a distress call to the tower at the Jacksonville International Airport, reporting some sort of problem. 

Officials with JAI said they never heard from Steele again. 

Officials said Steele had intended to continue flying to Tennessee. 

It is unclear what caused the plane to crash, but investigators are not overlooking weather conditions as a potential factor because it was raining and there may have been limited visibility.

Steele crashed near Avenue B and Tampa Street on Camp Blanding about 200 feet short of one of the base’s runways. 

News4Jax spoke with aviation expert Randy Reep about flying in uncertain weather conditions.

"Any event that occurs in bad weather makes that event more difficult," Reep said. "You can’t fly in reference to the ground and (the pilot) is having to rely on his sensations to maneuver the airplane via instruments. It can very difficult, which is why the air traffic control system is designed the way it is."

Reep also mentioned that if Steele filed a flight plan, there will be more evidence to collect because he would have been controlled through radio communications with the ground.

The FAA will investigate and the National Transportation Safety Board will determine the probable cause of the crash.

The Florida Highway Patrol is assisting in the investigation.

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