Neighbors tried to save Russell after plane crashed into pond

Published: May. 23, 2015 at 2:19 PM EDT|Updated: Jun. 2, 2015 at 10:13 PM EDT
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Small plane down on Old Barnwell Rd in West Columbia (Source: Corey Allan Threatt)
Small plane down on Old Barnwell Rd in West Columbia (Source: Corey Allan Threatt)

WEST COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - The co-founder of one of the largest real estate companies in South Carolina died in a plane crash Saturday morning, according to  Lexington County Coroner Margaret Fisher.

Robert "Bob" Russell Jr., 85, co-founder of Russell and Jeffcoat Real Estate, died from his injuries after his single engine plane crashed into a pond in West Columbia.

According to officials, Russell was en route to Asheville when he crashed about two miles from the end of Runway 11 of Columbia Metropolitan Airport.

Airport officials say the Russell's small single engine plane took off at 9:15 a.m., shorty after Russell reported possible engine failure.  Minutes later, the tower lost contact with the plane.

Federal Aviation Administration spokesperson Kathleen Bergen says the aircraft was returning to the airport when the accident occurred.

"I was in my front yard putting down pine straw and I heard what sounded like a low flying plan and then the sound of a helicopter and then BOOM," ," Greg Lee said.

Greg Lee lives on the road that borders the pond. He says he and his neighbors sprung into action, the minute they saw Russell's plane go down. Lee says they climbed into paddle boats and moved towards the wreckage, looking for signs of life.

"Were working their way towards the fuselage, the tail section. I jumped in the water thinking maybe this guys was going to be trying to surface."

Russell was the only person on board. Russell's autopsy is scheduled for Sunday.

Maj. John Allard with the Lexington County Sheriff's Department says the National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the incident.

Federal officials say the NTSB will be examining it in coming days. It's estimated, it could take a year to determine the cause of the crash.

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