Pilot dies after crashing into Whitehall water tower

Muskegon County

WHITEHALL, Mich. (WOOD) — Authorities say a 79-year-old pilot is dead after his plane crashed into Whitehall’s water tower and caught fire.

Crews were called to the scene in the area of Warner and Sophia streets near Whitehall District Schools’ athletic fields around 11:42 a.m. Monday.

Firefighters arrived to find heavy smoke and flames coming from the wreckage. Crews put out the fire and determined the pilot of the single-engine plane had died.

Whitehall Police Chief Roger Squires identified the pilot as James Joseph Laird of Twin Lake. Laird took off from Fremont’s municipal airport about 45 minutes before the crash, according to authorities.

Investigators say it’s unclear what caused his plane to crash. They say Laird’s flight path didn’t change and there is no indication of engine problems based on the plane’s speed.

Online Federal Aviation Administration records show that Laird’s certification to fly expired in 2000, News 8 found.

A plane crashed in Whitehall Monday, Sept. 9, 2019.
A plane crashed in Whitehall Monday, Sept. 9, 2019.

School administrative staff told News 8 that there were no students and staff on the ground in that area when the crashed happened. Authorities confirmed no one else was injured in the incident.

The city has isolated the water tower from its system and shut it off until inspectors can evaluate the tower’s structure and water.

Investigators say the wreckage will remain at the scene for a few hours until the FAA arrives.

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