Emory surgeon identified as pilot killed in Dawsonville crash - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

Emory surgeon identified as pilot killed in Dawsonville plane crash

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Dr. John Culbertson Dr. John Culbertson

Friends and family of Dr. Jack Culbertson confirmed Wednesday morning that the long-time surgeon at Emory was killed Monday night in a small plane crash along Highway 136 and Auraria Road near Dawsonville.

Culbertson's single-engine Piper Malibu PA-46 went down at about 7:10 p.m. Monday.

Nearby residents heard the plane in distress moments before it crashed.

"I wasn't sure exactly what was going on to begin with, then all of a sudden you heard an explosion and then the plane descended on down," said Josh Littlejohn. "You could tell it was an airplane."

The Dawson County Sheriff's Office said they received a call from the Federal Aviation Administration that a plane had made a distress call.

Maj. Tony Wooten with the Dawson County Sheriff's Office said his deputies were dispatched to the area on the 1500 block of Auraria Road and located debris from the plane, including parts of the wing, on the roadway.

The FAA said the plane was headed from the Morristown, NJ, Municipal Airport to DeKalb-Peachtree Airport when air traffic controllers lost contact with the flight shortly after 7 p.m. One of Culbertson's colleagues said he was visiting family in New Jersey, and was on his way back to Peachtree-DeKalb Airport when the plane went down.

"I have flown with Jack many times and that was one of this true loves, was flying his airplane," said Dr. Grant Carlson at Emory University Hospital. "He was so loved, and in the last 24 hours, there's been such an outpouring of emotion regarding his loss, because he befriended everyone.  Everyone loved him, and he related to everyone. And he had a zest for life, and he reminded us that we all should appreciate it. And he worked hard to help others."

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating and will determine the cause of the crash.

Culbertson was found dead inside the cockpit behind a home a couple hundred yards from the road. The plane did not come close to hitting the house, according to Wooten.

Investigators battled rain, fog and poor visibility overnight as they collected evidence to try and determine what caused the crash.

Culbertson was a doctor at Emory Hospital, serving since 1986. The hospital released the following statement:

"John "Jack" Culbertson, MD, passed away when the airplane he was piloting went down in North Georgia. On behalf of all of the Woodruff Health Sciences Center faculty and staff, our deepest sympathies go out to Dr. Culbertson's family. We do not know the circumstances surrounding the crash and NTSB is investigating. Dr. Culbertson served as Associate Professor within the Division of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery for more than twenty-five years. He was a member of multiple national societies and served as Chief of Plastic Surgery at Emory University Hospital Midtown. Dr. Culbertson also directed plastic and reconstructive surgery services based at Grady Memorial Hospital and mentored plastic surgery residents there. Dr. Culbertson contributed to numerous publications and textbooks and lectured nationally and internationally. In addition, he traveled to Navajo reservations for many years to provide instruction and perform surgery."

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