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Gwinnett trainer, student pilot identified as victims in Covington plane crash
Airplane crash
Firefighters work to extinguish flames in an area where tractor-trailers were stored after a small plane crashed into it near General Mills’ cereal production plant Thursday, April 21. - photo by Tom Spigolon

COVINGTON, Ga. — Two Gwinnett County residents have been identified as the victims in an April 21 fatal airplane crash in northeast Covington that occurred the day after they picked up the plane in Texas.

Sergio Gill, 45, of Snellville, a private pilot and flight instructor; and student pilot Edward Rodriguez, 33, of Lawrenceville, died in the 6:44 p.m. incident., Covington Police reported.

In addition, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) issued a preliminary report earlier this week about its investigation into the fiery crash of the Cessna 340 airplane into some parked tractor-trailers near the Harland Drive entrance to the cereal production plant.

Rodriguez's partner told NTSB investigators the student pilot "had recently met the private pilot and the private pilot told the student pilot that he could teach him how to fly the accident airplane," the report stated.

"According to the partner of (Rodriguez), both the student pilot and private pilot flew to Lubbock, Texas, on a commercial airline the day prior to the accident to pick up the accident airplane. On the day of the accident, the student pilot intended to begin flight training with his flight instructor," the report stated.

The report stated that preliminary radar data from the Federal Aviation Administration showed the airplane departed DeKalb-Peachtree Airport near Chamblee about 4:40 p.m. and was tracked to Gwinnett County Airport-Briscoe Field in Lawrenceville where it landed about 10 minutes later at 4:50 p.m.

It then departed the Lawrenceville airport about 5:12 p.m., arrived at Lumpkin County-Wimpey’s Airport in Dahlonega about 5:31 p.m. and took off again about 6:13 p.m. en route to Covington Municipal Airport.

"According to multiple witnesses in the vicinity of (Covington Airport), the airplane made a 'hard right' banking turn" and started to spiral downward before crashing into the tractor-trailers about one mile southeast of Covington airport. 

"Parking lot surveillance video revealed the airplane descending in a right spin at the time of the impact. The airplane was destroyed

by post-impact fire."

It stated that remnants of the right horizontal stabilizer, elevator, vertical stabilizer, and rudder were found within the debris area. Flight control cables located within the debris area were traced from the remnants of the control surfaces to their respective bellcranks — used in aircraft control systems — and to the flight controls within the cockpit. The cockpit and instrument panel were destroyed by post-impact fire, it stated.

Examination of both engines revealed fire and impact damage. A preliminary onsite examination revealed all fuel lines and ignition wiring on both engines were destroyed by post-impact fire.

The wreckage was recovered for further examination, it concluded.

A NTSB spokesman said the pilot was receiving flight instruction on “touch-and-go landings” when the incident occurred. 

Witnesses told police on April 21 they believed the plane was having trouble gaining altitude and appeared to be gliding. They said they could hear what appeared to be engine trouble before the plane veered to the right and immediately went down into a tractor-trailer parking area.

Rodriguez was identified from dental records, while GBI investigators identified Gill from DNA, a Covington Police Department spokesman said.

No one on the ground was injured and it occurred in a fenced area that was roughly 300 yards from General Mills’ production plant which operates around the clock, police officials said. General Mills spokesperson Mollie Wulff said no employees were harmed in the crash.

FAA records show the Cessna 340 fixed-wing, multi-engine aircraft was manufactured in 1973 and certified as airworthy in 1985.

It was owned by Nixon Enterprises Inc. of Portales, New Mexico.