Pilot, passenger killed in Lake Hickory plane crash, officials say

HICKORY, N.C. — Two people died when a plane crashed into Lake Hickory Sunday morning, according to state highway patrol investigators.

Troopers said pilot Jeffrey Jay Cooley, 63, of Granite Falls, and passenger Brian Frank Miller, 49, of Hickory, were killed.

Police and firefighters were called to Lake Hickory around 11:30 a.m. Sunday.

Firefighters said the plane took off from Hickory Regional Airport before it struck high-tension power lines across the lake. The crash caused widespread power outages north of downtown Hickory.

Agencies from Alexander, Caldwell, and Catawba counties responded.

Jeff Cooley’s fellow pilots told Channel 9′s Dave Faherty he was very safety-conscious when flying.

“He’s always impressed me as just a really conscientious pilot,” Jeffrey Wofford said. “He’s got a turboprop that he flies regularly. He really goes above and beyond when it comes to safety-related things, and so when I heard about this yesterday, I was just flabbergasted.”

Both pilots believe Cooley was doing takeoffs and landings on the lake.

Wofford said he has known Cooley for years. He said the aircraft is an amphibious plane with retractable wheels, allowing it to land on both water and at airports.

Pilot Joe Brannock said he flew with Cooley a dozen times, including on trips where Cooley helped transport rescue dogs to their new homes.

“Just an incredibly generous person,” Brannock said. “He flew for a volunteer group where pilots fly stray dogs that are going to be adopted.”

Duke Energy reported over 18,000 customers were dealing with outages in the area at the time of the crash.

“After the incident, approximately 18,000 customers were without power due to the downed transmission lines,” Duke Energy said in a statement. “Our crews were able to switch customers to other lines and by 1:30 p.m. all customers have been restored.”

The crash is currently under investigation by the FAA. Investigators said at this point they’re not aware of any mechanical issues with the plane. They’re speaking with witnesses who saw the crash as they investigate.

By Monday, the plane had been moved to the lake’s shoreline. FAA investigators hope to learn more about what happened once the plane is removed from the water.

The FAA said Miller, the passenger who was killed, was a student pilot.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

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