NEW ORLEANS — The pilot of a small plane in a deadly crash near New Orleans' Lakefront Airport radioed the control tower shortly after takeoff about unspecified problems and sought clearance to return, federal investigators said Saturday.
The pilot and an award-winning television journalist aboard were both killed in the crash Friday afternoon.
The National Transportation Safety Board said in a statement that the pilot contacted the tower just before the Aerotek Pitts S-2B went down in a field not far from the airport.
"Witnesses reported observing the airplane appeared to have engine problems shortly after take-off," the NTSB statement said. "According to witnesses the airplane then pitched down and struck the ground."
Much of the wreckage was consumed in a post-crash fire.
Killed were Franklin J.P. Augustus, 69, a veteran acrobatic air show pilot and New Orleans-based member of a group that honored the Tuskegee Airmen, and Nancy Parker, 53, a TV journalist in New Orleans for more than two decades.
Parker was at the airport and was flying in Augustus' propeller-driven airplane for a story she was doing on him.
WVUE-TV anchor Lee Zurik announced Parker's death during a break in programming on Friday. Choking back tears, Zurik said his colleague was on the plane "doing what she loved, telling a story."
Parker's husband, Glynn "Glen" Boyd, posted a heartbreaking message on Facebook early Saturday that read, "I would trade places with her right now."
"My heart is shattered," said Boyd, a former television news journalist who is a public information officer for the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office. "The dearest and most wonderful person in my life is gone.
"She was our road map, our compass, our guiding light."
Boyd had three children with Parker: twins Piper and Pierce and their oldest son, Parker.
Augustus performed in air shows and also served as a flight instructor. The aviator, who said he grew up in a poor neighborhood in New Orleans, was a collector of Pitts Special aerobatic planes and had a love for the air show business.
He often visited schools to encourage black students to aspire to become pilots.
"I want to let the young people know that if I can make it, anybody can," he said in newspaper article from several decades ago.
The NTSB said it will release a preliminary report about the crash within a few weeks.
A determination of probable cause will be issued at the conclusion of the investigation, which is expected to be completed in 12 to 24 months.
Anyone who witnessed the crash or those with information relevant to the investigation were urged to contact the NTSB by email at witnessntsb.gov.