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Pilot called a hero for avoiding buildings in Tennessee plane crash that killed 4

Courtesy William Mix

The scene of a small plane crash in Bellevue, Tenn.

Four members of the same family were killed aboard a light plane that crashed Monday in Nashville, Tenn., authorities said. The dead included the pilot, who witnesses and fire officials said saved many lives by narrowly avoiding a nearby YMCA building.

The plane, a Gulfstream 690C flying from Great Bend Municipal Airport in Kansas to John C. Tune-Nashville International Airport, went down shortly before 5 p.m. ET just outside the YMCA in Bellevue, a southwest suburban neighborhood of Nashville. 

The pilot of a small plane that crashed on Monday near Nashville, Tenn. is being called a hero for possibly saving the lives of many on the ground by maneuvering away from a nearby YMCA as the plane went down. None of the four people on board survived.

All aboard the plane were killed, Nashville police spokesman Don Aaron said. No injuries were reported at the YMCA, which was evacuated after the plane slammed into the ground just 20 feet from its wall.

A police statement said confirmation of the identity of the victims was pending, but that all four were believed to be members of the same family.

"While details of the crash are still emerging, the near-miss of our building surely saved dozens of people from harm," the YMCA of Middle Tennessee said in a statement Monday night, adding that its prayers "continue to be with the victims' families and all those affected by the crash."

Aaron said the plane missed its first approach to the Nashville airport. It was circling back to make a second attempt and was coming in low, he said.

"The crash was very hard," he said. "The impact was very severe into the ground," strewing debris over an 80-yard area.

Three of the bodies had been recovered by late Monday evening, Aaron said, and "I understand that there are body parts [still] here."

As the smoky heap of rubble continued smoldering Monday night, Metro Nashville Fire District Chief George Hickey told reporters that it could have been much, much worse. Witnesses reported seeing the plane bank hard to the right and crash into the ground, he said — near not only the YMCA building but also a retirement home.

"No buildings were hit," Hickey said. "I may be wrong, but I really want to take my hat off to the pilot."

Hickey called it "the worst plane crash I've ever seen."

Ambulances transported no one from the scene, which Hickey called "a totally devastated area."

"The pilot did one hell of a job," he said.

Morgan MacGavin, who was at a nearby Starbucks, told the Tennessean newspaper of Nashville that the flames were so high and the smoke was so thick that it was impossible to tell at first what had exploded there.

"It looked like a massive bonfire," MacGavin said. "It didn't hit the building, but it's pretty close to the side of the building.

"That just breaks my heart," she said. "My heart just breaks for whoever that is and their family."

Foul play wasn't suspected, Aaron said. Bergen said the FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board were investigating.

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