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Pilot ejected when small airplane dove near Chattanooga; body recovered

The body of a student pilot who was ejected from a small aircraft above an area east of Chattanooga, Tenn., in a freak accident Friday evening was found on Saturday, authorities said.

The man’s body was located after 8 a.m. local time, Bob Gault, a spokesman for the Bradley County Sheriff’s department, told NBC News.

The accident occurred when the owner of the Zodiac 601XL plane was taking lessons from an instructor, NBC station WRCB of Chattanooga reported, citing police. A malfunction caused the plane to nose dive and the canopy flew open – and neither man was wearing a seat belt, WRCB reported.

The accident occurred at about 2,500 feet, the Chattanooga Times Free Press reported

The instructor was able to land the aircraft back at Collegedale Municipal Airport, operations manager Chris Hancock confirmed to NBC News. He directed further questions to a Collegedale police spokesman who could not immediately be reached.

“The people inside the plane were not wearing seat belts,” said Troy Spence, director of the county’s emergency management agency, according to WRCB. “So when they lost control of the plane, in an attempt to regain control of the plane, the passenger was ejected.”

Authorities conducted a ground search in Bradley County, WRCB said. The Times Free Press said the owner-pilot had a cell phone with him and rescuers pinged it in an attempt to find him.

Neither of the men was identified publicly by authorities.

WRCB said the plane had been owned by a man killed in a December crash and then was sold to the current owner, described as an experienced pilot who wanted more training in the Zodiac.

The Zodiac 601XL is a single-engine kit aircraft offered for home builders. Its two seats are side by side under a large domed canopy.

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