The pilot of a small plane that crashed in a mountainous area of North Carolina, killing four people from Kentucky, reported a fire on board just before the fatal descent, a federal official said Thursday.
Authorities in Cherokee County, N.C., Friday officially identified the victims as pilot Matthew Shuey, 27 of Nicholasville; and passengers Tiffany Maggard, 23, of Pippa Passes; Kassie Lynn Robinson, 22, of Redfox, and Miranda Morgan, 20, of Mousie. The three passengers were all from Knott County in Eastern Kentucky.
Robinson graduated from Alice Lloyd College on May 14 with a degree in biology, said Knott County Judge-Executive Randy Thompson, whose daughter was in the same class.
Maggard, who married last year, was from Knott County but was living in Leslie County and studying physical therapy, said Leondus Vinson, a family friend.
"Just beautiful young ladies that were just an asset to the community, or any community," Thompson said of the three. "It's got the entire county upset."
Vinson said Maggard was a joyful person "who lit up the room when she walked in."
Robinson's grandmother, Dorothy Robinson, said the young woman was friendly, loving and outgoing. Robinson wanted to be a physical therapist, her grandmother said.
"It's just rough," Dorothy Robinson said of her death.
Shuey was born in Lexington, but his family later moved to Nicholasville, said his father, Steven E. Shuey.
Matt Shuey attended Lexington Catholic High School and Centre College and then worked as a flight instructor at Aero Tech in Lexington. Most recently, he had been living in Hazard and working for a flight service there.
Shuey had the perfect attitude to be a pilot, his father said — level-headed, conservative and meticulous.
"He was a good, conscientious, professional pilot," and a great person, Steven Shuey said.
Shuey's boss gave him high-profile assignments flying for dignitaries because of his skills, his father said.
Two weeks ago, Shuey spent the day flying Gov. Steve Beshear to a series of stops.
Family members of Morgan couldn't be reached on Thursday.
All those on the plane died on impact, said Keith Lovin, sheriff of Cherokee County, N.C., where the crash happened.
The National Transportation Safety Board identified the plane involved in the crash as a twin-engine Beechcraft BE-58.
Federal records show the plane was made in 1976 and is registered to Aero Resources Corp., in Hazard.
Shuey had flown for Aero Resources for about two years, his father said.
The crash happened about 4:15 p.m. Wednesday near Unaka, a small community in the westernmost tip of North Carolina, near Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
The plane took off from suburban Atlanta bound for the Wendell H. Ford Airport off Ky. 15 north of Hazard.
The plane was cruising in level flight at an altitude of 9,000 feet, well above highest peaks in the area, when Shuey reported an emergency because of fire on board, according to Peter Knudson, a spokesman for the National Transportation Safety Board.
Shuey's last message to controllers was that there was a fire in the cockpit, his father said.
Air-traffic controllers lost radio and radar contact with the plane soon after, Knudson said.
"There was obviously some type of problem" with the plane, he said.
Several witnesses saw the plane descending and reported hearing an explosion on impact, Lovin said.
The crash reportedly caused a fire that burned several acres before firefighters brought it under control.
The plane crashed in steep, forested terrain. The sheriff's office sent a helicopter to spot the wreckage, but rescuers initially had to hike in.
"It's a very remote area in our county," Lovin said.
Later, the U.S. Forest Service helped re-open an old logging road above the site to make access easier, the sheriff said.
Lovin said rescuers started bringing the bodies out Wednesday but had to stop at dark because of the steep terrain.
They finished the job Thursday, Lovin said.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.