By Cyndi Sellers
The crash of a small aircraft near Hackberry Tuesday afternoon, Feb. 2, claimed the lives of two Calcasieu Parish men. Rock Joseph Palermo, III, 69, of Sulphur and Richard Don Clemonts, Jr. 65, of Lake Charles were the only occupants of the 1979 Cessna four-seater, single engine plane that buried itself in the mud on an island just north of Hackberry, according the Cameron Parish Sheriff Ron Johnson. The plane matches the description of one registered to DNS Aviation of Sulphur that went missing. Final identification will be made by the FAA.
Sheriff Johnson said his office received a call at 5:42 p.m. of a plane flying low then disappearing. As deputies made their way to the site, they found the wreckage buried in the thick mud. During the night, with the permission of the Federal Aviation Administration, two bodies were removed first using heavy equipment and finally shovels. The Calcasieu Parish Sheriff’s Office assisted with manpower and a mobile command center.
Palermo was a licensed pilot and flight instructor who also worked as a pilot for the Calcasieu Parish Sheriff’s Office. Clemonts was his student and was apparently piloting the aircraft at the time of the crash.
The Cameron Parish Sheriff’s Office secured the scene until FAA and National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) officials arrived. The two federal agencies will conduct the investigation into the cause of the crash. They will want to interview any witnesses to the crash.
Grant Breaux, a resident of Broussard, who was in the Hackberry area bowfishing that day, claimed to have seen the crash. He posted on Facebook: “Suddenly I heard a weird noise, sounded like a speed boat just down the canal that was taking off going wide open, then I hear what sounded like three gunshots, but I can’t see anything, and it sounds like it’s right there. Suddenly I see what it is. It was a single engine passenger plane going straight down, full throttle straight down. Within a couple of seconds, it was all over. It crashed into the marsh within 200 yards of my location, sending mud flying up in all directions followed by the sound of impact.”
Breaux said he called 911 and assisted in getting the first responders to where he saw the crash. “When we got to it the plane is completely buried under the mud with a crater all around where it hit. And small pieces of debris were everywheres (sic) around it up to around 100 or so feet,” he wrote.