Update: Body of Heliopter Pilot Recovered from Va. Lake

August 27, 2012

(AP) - Divers have recovered the body of a Tennessee man who was at the controls of a helicopter that crashed into a lake in southwest Virginia.

Virginia State Police say the body of 64-year-old Bill R. Starnes was recovered Monday from approximately 80 feet of water about 100 yards from the wreckage of his Bell helicopter. Starnes was the only person on the helicopter Friday night when it crashed into South Holston Lake.

Starnes was the chief pilot for the Food City grocery chain. He was ferrying people to and from races at Bristol Motor Speedway in Tennessee. The cause of the crash is not known.

Starnes was from Blountville, Tenn.

For a third day, divers searched the murky waters of South Holston Lake on Monday for the pilot of helicopter that crashed just after it had dropped off six passengers.

The pilot, Bill Starnes, was the only person in the 1996 Bell 407 when it crashed late Friday in 42 feet of water. The chief pilot for the Food City grocery chain was ferrying people to and from races at Bristol Motor Speedway in Tennessee.

The helicopter, partially owned by Food City's parent company K-VA-T Foods, crashed in front of a house owned by Steve Smith, Food City's president and CEO.

The Bristol Herald-Courier (http://bit.ly/PiP3ks) said the search has been hampered by currents running along two riverbeds, poor visibility and depths ranging from 20 feet to 80 feet.

The wreckage of the helicopter was found Saturday. Divers then began following a debris field using scanner radar. Witnesses were also interviewed.

"It's kind of like a car crash," Virginia State Police diver Robert Hamilton said. "You want to get the people out and then you want to come in with the tow trucks."

People stood on the shore late Friday watching the helicopter ferry people to the track and back. They said they felt helpless as they heard a pop and then saw the aircraft floating.

"We came running down here, but there was nothing we could do," said Larry Buchanan, of Castlewood, who was camping at Washington County Park.

"You heard a big bang and then you just heard it tearing itself apart," said Richard Patchin, of West Palm Beach, Fla., who camped at Lakefront Family Campground, near the site of the crash. "It got dead quiet after."

A team from the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries assisted over the weekend. Investigators with the Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board have also arrived.

"They won't have a preliminary report on a cause for about six months," Virginia State Police Sgt. Michael. T. Conroy said.

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