David Starling, his son, Hunter Starling, and girlfriend Kim Smith. (Photo: Courtesy Samantha Hodges.)
GATLINBURG, TN (News Sentinel) -
The Jacksonville-area pilot who crashed his single-engine airplane in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park the day after Christmas was using visual flight rules in weather conditions that required instrument rules, according to the preliminary aviation accident report filed by the National Transportation Safety Board.
Pilot David Starling, 41, of Lawtey, Fla.; his son Hunter, 8; and Starling's girlfriend, Kim Smith, 42 died in the crash. The plane went down about 15 miles southeast of the Gatlinburg-Pigeon Forge Airport.
The NTSB report states that “instrument meteorological conditions prevailed,” meaning weather conditions required Starling to fly using IFR. However, Starling was not instrument-rated, according to his Federal Aviation Administration airman certification, meaning he was not rated to fly using only instruments inside the plane.
Starling was flying at 9,500 feet when he requested a descent from an air traffic controller at McGhee Tyson Airport to land at the Gatlinburg airport.