NEW ORLEANS, La. (WWL-TV) – The small plane that crashed into Lake Pontchartrain Saturday evening was pulled from the water Tuesday morning. New Orleans firefighters used a crane to pull out the wreckage.
Inside were the bodies of two men, the pilot and the passenger.
A couple from Baton Rouge chartered a plane to take an aerial tour of the city. The young woman was pulled to safety and spent the night at Ochsner Hospital before being released Sunday. Tuesday family members of the pilot and young passenger got the worst news possible.
The father of Reginald Hilliard Junior was distraught and comforted by friends, still in disbelief that his 25-year-old son was gone.
“I didn’t believe it. I refused to believe it. My son’s a fighter. He refused to give up. He refused to quit,” said Reginald Hilliard, Senior.
He says ‘Lil Reg was a fighter from the start. He was told he would not live to be two months after getting spinal meningitis. Today he owns a tattoo place in Baton Rouge, was a rap artist, and a father.
“He has a daughter who is five and she always called him her best friend, she always says her daddy is her best friend,” said his cousin Yolanda White.
The family says Reggie was a great swimmer. That’s why they believe he pushed his girlfriend Brianna Davis out of the plane. They said she couldn’t swim. A party yacht saw the crash and got her out of the water. The family is calling Reggie a hero.
“He was afraid of planes and this was his first flight ever,” said White.
The pilot Jim Biondo, 58, of Thibodaux, had been flying for decades, and friends say he lived to fly.
“He would drive an hour each way just to come fly an hour tour,” said Lindy Hammonds, an aircraft mechanic and friend.
He had just finished taking the couple on an aerial tour of the city.
“Just a good guy. A good pilot. I know from things that were said the people that were on the tour with him enjoyed it. They had a good time. They had a great flight,” said Hammonds.
Now Biondo’s wife and Reggie’s family wait to find out why.
“But we gonna get through because we have faith and we know God is in control,” said White.
The plane was intact and when it came out of the water just 1,000 yards from the runway. The airport director, Ben Morris, said the plane hit a rainstorm around the time of the crash.
Hilliard’s family said they believe the pilot misjudged the runway.
The pilot’s friend said that wind microbursts, common during storms, cause planes to stop and fall.
But there is no official cause at this time.