MEMPHIS – Dr. Kenneth Byrd is slowly improving after sustaining serious injuries Sept. 2 in a plane crash in western Yalobusha County.
Byrd remains in critical condition at the Regional Medical Center in Memphis with numerous broken bones, a punctured lung, a head injury and spinal fracture. He spent 11 hours trapped in his crumpled Cessna 210 airplane after the crash before before rescuers pinpointed his location.
Yalobusha EMA Director Frank Hyde reported Byrd is an experienced pilot, logging more than 2,700 hours of flight time.
Hyde said the pilot performed routine steps ahead of the crash, cutting all of his electronics off and not extending his landing gear as he braced for the worst.
Cutting off the equipment could keep from triggering an electrical spark that could spark a fire after the impact, Hyde explained.
The only thing he didn’t do was cut off the fuel flow and there is a likely explanation for that as well.
“He probably was out of fuel,” Hyde said, a theory both he and Sheriff Lance Humphreys share as the cause of the crash.
Minutes before the crash, his low-flying plane had attracted the attention of three people who were standing outside their home a mile from where the plane crashed.
“It went right over their house,” Hyde said. “They almost felt like he had tried to pull up to keep from hitting their house,” the EMA director told the Herald.
They also saw the pilot dip his wings back and forth as he flew over, another indication he may have been out of fuel.
“The fuel is in the wings, he was trying to get every last drop,” Humphreys said. His engine was also sputtering according to the witnesses.
Although not an aviation expert, Humphreys said he learned from talking to other pilots that many of the Cessna 210 planes have a four-and-a-half hour supply of fuel and a number of the planes have gone down when pilots underestimated the remaining fuel supply.
Byrd had planned to land at the Water Valley Airport after strong storms caused him to dip farther south in his flight from North Carolina to Memphis. He maintained radio contact with FAA until he prepared to land at the Water Valley airport after being diverted several times from his original Memphis destination.
Water Valley Mayor Larry Hart saw Byrd make two passes by the runway before he flew away.
The reason he did not land remains a mystery although one theory is that he thought he could make it a little farther and land at an airport that supplies fuel.
He never made radio contact again, but Humphreys said there is a likely explanation for this.
“I learned from talking to pilots that you must be around 2,500 feet or higher in order to make contact with Memphis,” Hum-phreys said. “He may not have ever regained enough altitude to alert Memphis that he had again changed course,” Humphreys said.
The accident is under investigation by the FAA, who responded to the scene Sept. 4, two days after the crash.
The wreckage was removed by an Atlanta-based recovery company on Wednesday, Sept. 5.
Starting a week ago, Byrd’s wife posts daily updates on his condition on caringbridge.org.
On Sunday she reported he had opened his eyes briefly and was able to squeeze her hand.
“We rejoice in the baby steps toward his recovery. He is fighting the good fight!” she posted.