Coach of Gwinnett, student pilot identified as victim in Covington plane crash

COVINGTON, Ga. – Two Gwinnett County residents have been identified as the victims of a fatal April 21 plane crash in northeast Covington that happened the day after the plane was picked up in Texas.

Sergio Gill, 45, of Snellville, private pilot and flight instructor; and student pilot Edward Rodriguez, 33, of Lawrenceville, died in the 6:44 p.m. incident, Covington police reported.

Additionally, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) earlier this week released a preliminary report into its investigation into the violent crash of the Cessna 340 aircraft into tractor-trailers parked near the Harland Drive entrance to the cereal production plant.

Rodriguez’s partner told NTSB investigators that the student pilot “recently met with the private pilot and the private pilot told the student pilot that he could teach him to fly the accident aircraft,” indicates the report.

“According to (Rodriguez’s) partner, the student pilot and private pilot flew to Lubbock, Texas on a commercial airline the day before the crash to pick up the crashed aircraft. On the day of the accident, the student pilot intended to begin flight training with his flight instructor,” the report said.

The report says preliminary Federal Aviation Administration radar data shows the plane took off from DeKalb-Peachtree Airport near Chamblee around 4:40 p.m. and was tracked to Gwinnett-Briscoe Field County Airport at Lawrenceville where he landed about 10 minutes later at 4:50 p.m. pm

He then departed Lawrenceville Airport at approximately 5:12 p.m., arrived at Lumpkin County-Wimpey Airport in Dahlonega at approximately 5:31 p.m., and took off again at approximately 6:13 p.m. en route to Covington Municipal Airport.

“According to multiple witnesses in the vicinity of (Covington Airport), the plane made a ‘right’ turn” and began to spiral down before crashing into the tractor-trailers about a mile behind southeast of Covington Airport.

“Parking surveillance video revealed that the plane was descending in a spin to the right at the time of impact. The plane was destroyed

by post-impact fire.”

He said remnants of the right horizontal stabilizer, elevator, vertical stabilizer and rudder were found in the debris area. The flight control cables located in the debris area have been traced from the remains of the control surfaces to their respective cranks – used in aircraft control systems – and to the flight controls in the cockpit. The cockpit and instrument panel were destroyed by post-impact fire, he said.

Examination of both engines revealed fire and impact damage. A preliminary on-site examination revealed that all fuel lines and ignition wiring to both engines had been destroyed by a post-impact fire.

The wreckage was recovered for further examination, he concluded.

An NTSB spokesperson said the pilot was receiving flight instruction on “touch-and-go landings” when the incident occurred.

Witnesses told police on April 21 they believed the plane was having difficulty gaining altitude and appeared to be hovering. They said they could hear what sounded like an engine problem before the plane veered right and immediately crashed into a tractor-trailer parking area.

Rodriguez was identified from dental records, while GBI investigators identified Gill from DNA, a Covington Police Department spokesperson said.

No one on the ground was injured and it happened in a fenced area about 300 yards from the 24-hour General Mills production plant, police officials said. General Mills spokeswoman Mollie Wulff said no employees were injured in the accident.

FAA records show that the Cessna 340 fixed-wing multi-engine aircraft was manufactured in 1973 and certified airworthy in 1985.

It was owned by Nixon Enterprises Inc. of Portales, New Mexico.