A Centre businessman and local pilot has died from injuries sustained in a plane crash Saturday. Harley McGatha died Sunday just before 6:30 a.m. in the UAB Medical Center Intensive Care Unit in Birmingham.
McGatha was piloting a small airplane know as an Aeronca Champ. He was the only occupant of the aircraft which veered sharply off to the left of the runway immediately after take off Saturday afternoon at the Centre Municipal Airport. The plane cut through power lines and took off limbs from a large pine tree before striking a home at 13 Oakview Court in the Northwood Estates subdivision located adjacent to the airport.
The plane and the house burst into flames upon impact. The pilot managed to free himself from the burning wreckage but suffered burns over 90 percent of his body. According to eyewitnesses, he remained calm and responded to emergency personnel. He was transported by Cherokee EMS to the helipad at Cherokee Medical Center to be airlifted to the UAB Medical Center in Birmingham.
The home was occupied by the owners, Brian and Kelia Burleson and their two children. They escaped the burning house without injury to find the aircraft and its pilot in their driveway. The Centre fire department quickly extinguished the blaze resulting in minor damage to the home.
Those responding to the scene included; The Centre Police and Fire Departments, Cherokee County Rescue Squad, Cherokee EMS, Cherokee County Sheriffs Department, Cherokee County EMA, State EMA Officials, FAA, Cedar Bluff Police and Fire Departments along with numerous members of other local fire departments. The FAA is continuing their investigation to try to determine the cause of the fatal crash.