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Terra Ceia couple dies in North Carolina plane crash

A Terra Ceia couple was killed in the crash of a small plane in William B. Umstead State Park in North Carolina as it was attempting to land at Raleigh-Durham International Airport on Sunday evening.

The State Highway Patrol announced the fatalities at noon Monday. They were later identified as Harvey Partridge, a veterinarian, and Patricia Partridge, both 72, of Terra Ceia, north of Palmetto.

The plane was found off the Reedy Creek Trail shortly after 10 a.m. Monday, more than 14 hours after it was reported missing, said RDU spokeswoman Crystal Feldman. She said she did not have information about where the flight originated.

The plane is a Piper PA-32, a single-engine plane that seats up to six people, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. The federal agency said the plane was approaching Runway 32, a small general aviation runway that extends east-west, perpendicular to the airport’s two main runways, when air traffic controllers lost contact with it.

Harvey, a native of Mount Dora, Fla., founded the Partridge Animal Hospital in St. Petersburg in 1978. In a Monday afternoon Facebook post, the clinic released a statement regarding the accident. He sold the practice to the Veterinary Centers of America in 1995, and left the practice in 2003, according to company biography.

“Dr. Partridge was a truly wonderful doctor and advocate for animals, and he and his wife will be terribly missed by our staff and clients. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family, and we appreciate your understanding during this difficult time,” the clinic posted.

The National Transportation Safety Board will lead the investigation to determine what caused the crash. Board spokesman Keith Holloway said an investigator will examine the plane and the scene of the crash, review communications, radar data and weather information and try to speak to witnesses, if any. The investigator also will review maintenance records for the plane and the pilot’s medical and flying history.

The NTSB will release a preliminary report, describing the facts surrounding the crash, in about 10 days, Holloway said. A final report identifying the likely cause of the crash could take a year or more to complete.

FAA air traffic controllers contacted the airport at about 7:25 p.m. Sunday to say they had lost radar contact with a plane as it approached RDU. A statement from the airport later in the evening said the small general aviation aircraft was near Umstead State Park, which borders the east side of RDU.

Searchers combed through Umstead in the dark Sunday night looking for the plane. Feldman said a State Highway Patrol helicopter looked for a heat signature on the ground, which might indicate the plane’s location, but the search was suspended about 2 a.m.

“Umstead State Park is 5,200 acres of dense forest with few roads and little to no light,” Feldman said Sunday. “It could take a very long time for us to find this plane.”

The search resumed at dawn Monday. It was led by the Raleigh Fire Department, with help from a dozen state and local rescue and law enforcement agencies.

Kendall Hocutt, the Raleigh Fire Department’s assistant chief of operations, described the search area as “rugged,” but did not provide any more details about where the plane crashed. Reedy Creek Trail runs the length of the park, from near RDU to where it emerges on the Raleigh side at Reedy Creek Road.

Umstead closed for the day Monday.

“Officials request that everyone avoid the area until further notice,” Feldman said.

The airport’s runways were closed for about 20 minutes as fire and rescue crews responded to the report of a missing plane.

Richard Stradling: 919-829-4739, @RStradling

Richard Stradling covers transportation for The News & Observer. Planes, trains and automobiles, plus ferries, bicycles, scooters and just plain walking. Also, #census2020. He’s been a reporter or editor for 32 years, including the last 20 at The N&O. 919-829-4739,