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Report: Pilot error likely cause of plane crash that killed Hunter Parks

Fayetteville native died while flying home from a duck hunting trip


Correction:    An earlier version of this article erroneously reported Hunter Parks was a graduate of Terry Sanford High School. According to the Board of Education, Hunter Parks last attended Terry Sanford in the 10th grade. CityView Today apologizes for this error.

The pilot in a private plane crash two years ago that killed Fayetteville native Douglas Hunter Parks was likely distracted and disoriented when he lost control of the aircraft, the National Transportation Safety Board said in a report published Jan. 30.

Hunter Parks' brother, Toliver, is the third generation owner of Parks Building Supply and Interiors in Fayetteville, according to the building supply company’s website.

When he died, Parks lived in Sea Level, an unincorporated community in Carteret County, CityView previously reported. Public records say Parks was with a company in Wilmington, EDP Management Group LLC, at the time of the crash. Records say EDP Management owned the crashed plane. The company was the defendant in lawsuits stemming from the crash that settled for $15 million last year, The News & Observer reported.

Hunter Parks
Hunter Parks
Hunting trip for teens ends in tragedy

The plane crashed into the Atlantic Ocean shortly after 2 p.m. Feb. 13, 2022, about 3 miles off the beach of the Cape Lookout National Seashore on the Outer Banks.

Eight people died:

  • The pilot, Ernest Durwood Rawls, 67, of Greenville.
  • Jeffrey Worthington Rawls of Greenville, who was Ernest’s son and was a student pilot for this flight.
  • Parks, 45, who lived in the Sea Level community in Carteret County.
  • Parks’ girlfriend Stephanie Ann McInnis Fulcher, 42, of Sea Level.
  • Fulcher’s 15-year-old son, Jonathan Kole McInnis, of Sea Level.
  • Noah Lee Styron, 15, of Cedar Island.
  • Michael Daily Shepard, 15, of Atlantic.
  • Jacob Nolan Taylor, 16, of Atlantic.

The plane was flying the group back from a duck hunting trip in Hyde County, CityView previously reported. A social media post made that day by Fulcher has photos of the group on the hunt.

The NTSB report and a transcript of the cockpit voice recorder portray a scene of confusion, frustration and, finally, fear in the minutes before the plane fell out of the sky and hit the water.

The report and transcript indicate Ernest Rawls and Jeffrey Rawls were focused on programming a flight plan into the plane’s flight management system and autopilot when the plane pitched up, slowed and stalled in the air just before 2 p.m.

When an airplane is in an aerodynamic stall, its speed and the angle of its wings relative to the airflow prevent it from providing enough lifting force to maintain flight. The plane starts to fall. Pilots are trained how to recover from stalls.

But Ernest Rawls was not able to regain control.

Site of the Feb. 13, 2022, plane crash off the North Carolina Outer Banks that killed eight people.
Site of the Feb. 13, 2022, plane crash off the North Carolina Outer Banks that killed eight people.
Focused on flight management system instead of on flying

On that February day two years ago, the Rawlses were to fly Parks, Fulcher and the teens from the airport in Hyde County to Carteret County, the NTSB report says.

They had trouble programming the plane’s flight management system — a computerized system that assists with navigation and the autopilot — with data such as their destination and navigational waypoints even before they took off.

“We’ll get it later,” Ernest Rawls said after he and Jeffrey weren’t able to program their flight plan before takeoff.

They took off at 1:34 p.m. and flew to 3,500 feet under autopilot, the report says.

A map in the report and the FlightAware aviation tracking service show that less than 10 minutes later they flew into a restricted area where military aircraft were training. They turned around, flew out of the area and started to fly around it.

Throughout the flight, the Rawlses continued to try to program their flight plan into the flight management system, but could not get it to work, according to the report and the transcript.

At one point, the plane entered a rapid descent, and an alarm warned Rawls about the speed. Rawls reduced power and the plane leveled off, it says, and he continued to try to program the flight management system.

The pilot loses control of the plane

About 1:59 p.m, the plane was 1,700 feet over the water. The plane’s nose began to pitch up, and its speed slowed, the report says.

At 1:59 p.m. and 12 seconds, a stall warning sounded in the cockpit, and Ernest Rawls cursed, the transcript and report say. When the stall warning activated, the autopilot turned itself off.

Over the next two minutes, the transcript shows more cursing as Rawls tried to regain control. The report says Rawls was likely spatially disoriented — unable to accurately ascertain the plane’s movement and attitude — after the stall. Conditions were cloudy, the report says, and pilots easily get disoriented when they cannot see the horizon.

“During this time the pilot also continued to make comments about the airplane’s navigation system including, ‘what are we doin’,’ ‘it’ll navigate,’ and ‘activate vectors,’” the report says.

Twenty-eight seconds after the first stall warning, Jeffrey Rawls said, “We’re sideways,” the transcript and report say.

The plane ascended to 4,700 feet, then went down toward the water, the report says.

The transcript relates more cursing, more yelling and more warning signals over the last moments. The cockpit recording cut off at 2:01 p.m. and 29 seconds.

“In the final moments of flight, the airplane rolled to a bank of more than 90° to the right and pitched more than 50° nose down,” the report says.

The Coast Guard reached the scene about five hours later.

Senior reporter Paul Woolverton can be reached at 910-261-4710 and pwoolverton@cityviewnc.com.

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plane crash, hunter parks, fayetteville, terry sanford high school