Small Plane Crashes On Atlanta Highway, All Four Passengers Dead [Breaking]

The Atlanta rush hour on I-285 is notoriously busy, but it turned deadly Friday morning when a small plane crashed into the highway after experiencing problems taking off from nearby Peachtree-Dekalb airport.

A Piper PA-32 with four passengers, three men and one woman, plus a pet dog crashed into the eastbound lane of I-285 near Peachtree Industrial Blvd at approximately 10 a.m. ET and struck the center median with debris spreading out into the westbound lane and nearby grassy areas. The Dekalb Fire Department confirmed with WSB TV that all four individuals on board died immediately.

The three male victims of the crash have been identified as Greg Byrd and his two sons Christopher and Phillip Byrd of Asheville, North Carolina (via AJC). The female victim was identified as Jackie Kulzer. She and Christopher Byrd were engaged to be married this October.

Channel 2's Mark Winne says that the pilot of the plane reported issues during takeoff during the initial climb. The last words heard from the pilot were reportedly, "Hey, we're going down."

The plane was full of fuel and "exploded" on impact, according to witnesses. Dekalb County firefighters appeared on the scene and put the fire out using a mixture of water and foam.

Amazingly, no individuals in cars on the ground were injured when the plane crashed, but one person reportedly had a close call as debris hit and shattered the windshield of their vehicle. The person in the car was too shaken up to go on television, but spoke with reporters and reportedly does not have any injuries.Witnesses reported that the plane almost clipped a traffic light before the crash and almost hit a semi-truck. Gerald Smith, the driver of the truck, told WSB-TV that he saw the plane coming straight at him from the right side of his truck. He slammed on his brakes to avoid a collision and the front of his truck was clipped by the plane, but the only damage was to a mirror.

The Dekalb Fire Department and the local police immediately shut down both lanes of I-285 and began diverting traffic off the highway. Officials are asking that drivers try to avoid the Peachtree Industrial Blvd area of I-285 throughout the day.

Update: The westbound (outer loop) lane of I-285 was re-opened around at the crash scene around 1 p.m. ET with the exception of the far left lane. The eastbound (inner loop) side of the highway remains closed. Update 2: All lanes on I-285 re-opened at approximately 2:25 p.m. ET.

Piper PA-32
Piper PA-32 (via Wikipedia)

WSB-TV reports that the plane flew in this morning from Asheville, North Carolina and landed at Peachtree-Dekalb where it stopped for approximately 45 minutes for a refueling stop. It then took off at 9:59 a.m. and was bound for Oxford, Mississippi for an Ole Miss graduation ceremony, according an AJC report.

The scene of the plane crash is now an investigation area, and the NTSB is expected to take at least eight hours, possibly more. Traffic on I-285 westbound is already backed up past the I-85 junction while the eastbound lane is backed up past Highway 400. This is affecting all major and minor roads connected to I-285 and near the accident area and is causing traffic buildups in downtown Atlanta as well on the I-85, 400, and I-75 connectors.Some local schools are closing early due to the traffic.

[Images via WSB-TV, Wikipedia]

[This article will be updated as new information becomes available.]