Community in mourning: Father, daughter killed in plane crash at Cullman Regional Airport

Brooklyn Walker, left; Tyler Walker, right (Moss-Service Funeral Home)

Updated 1-7-20 7:30 a.m.

“It’s a very sad day here, a very sad day for the local flying community.”

Cullman Regional Airport General Manager Ben Harrison

VINEMONT, Ala. – A Vinemont father and one of his daughters were killed in a plane crash Sunday at Cullman Regional Airport. Cullman County Coroner Jeremy L. Kilpatrick identified the victims as Tyler Wesley Walker, 40, and 10-year-old Brooklyn Walker.

The pair was in an RV-6, a small, two-seat personal aircraft sold in kit form that was manufactured and sold by Oregon-based Van’s Aircraft. According to Van’s, the RV-6, which features side-by-side seating, was introduced in 1986. The company says the RV-6 has a top speed of 210 mph.

So far, there is no official word on the cause of the crash, which happened on a bright, sunny afternoon.

Arlene Salac with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said in a statement Sunday, “A Van’s RV-6 crashed off the end of Runway 2 during departure from Cullman Regional Airport-Folsom Field, Vinemont, Ala., today at 12:30 p.m. CST. The FAA will investigate and the NTSB will determine the probable cause of the accident.”

Cullman Regional Airport General Manager Ben Harrison said the FAA arrived Sunday and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) arrived Monday morning to investigate. 

“We’re moving forward in the process, as far as the investigation,” he said. “The FAA is here. The NTSB is here. We do not know how long it will take them to complete their investigation. They’re working through their process now that they have to go through. All we’re doing now is a support role for them and anything they ask, anything they need done.”

Harrison said the Walkers were well known at the airport and in the community.

“They were here. They flew out of here. Everyone here knows them. A lot of people would consider them friends- they were good people,” he said. “It’s a sad time for everyone. It’s a shocking time for everyone. It’s something that nobody wants to stand up here and talk about and no family wants to deal with. It’s terrible, all the way around.”

Harrison and his staff had prepared since 2014 for emergencies such as Sunday’s tragedy.

“We do have a plan in place. We developed a plan around 2014 and we’ve been working on that plan ever since, you know, minor tweaks here and there. Unfortunately for something like this we were ready. it’s a sad event. Everyone did what they were supposed to do. All the agencies did what they were supposed to do,” he said.

“(The Cullman County Emergency Management Agency) EMA was very helpful in that plan when we first started getting this together, and unfortunately you have to plan for things that could happen and that’s the sad part of the entire thing,” he said in a press conference Monday afternoon. “When that plan came together, we didn’t have a very quick response. We had a lot of ‘well it could be this, and it could be that,’ so we sat down and we drew out a very detailed plan of what happens when, and we had a checklist, and we started going through the checklist. There’s a lot of things that happen in a very short amount of time, and if you don’t have a very detailed guideline and a very detailed path, you’ll miss steps. I can’t say enough about the staff, the staff here that handled it. I can’t say enough about the EMA that helped us, the (Cullman) Police Department, the Cullman County Sheriff’s (Office), the Vinemont-Providence Fire Department, Cullman Fire Department, the State Troopers. Everyone came together quickly to assess the situation. Once everyone was on scene, then we started working through the process.”

A school grieving

“We have had a day of tears and grief at East Elementary,” said an emotional East Elementary Principal David Wiggins Sunday night.

Brooklyn Walker was a fifth grader at East Elementary.

Wiggins spent Sunday afternoon and evening meeting with family members at the airport and his faculty and staff at the school, where classes resumed Monday after Christmas break.

“We have done everything we can think to do to be prepared to meet the needs of our students and staff,” he said. “We have held a faculty staff meeting here tonight at East Elementary to discuss plans to meet student needs tomorrow. Counselor Amber Hembree and I have met with counselors from other schools to go over the plan of how to best serve student needs tomorrow.”

Wiggins said a number of counselors would be at the school Monday to assist with students’ emotional needs, and the PTO would be providing support to teachers and staff whenever a teacher needed a break for an emotional moment.  He said he and Hembree called the parents of each child in Brooklyn’s homeroom Sunday to make sure they knew what happened.

“Our focus right now is on supporting Brooklyn’s family, and supporting her siblings,” he said. “You know, she has a brother in sixth grade and a sister in third grade. Not only did we lose a student, we lost a parent at East Elementary and we have children here who lost a sister and a father in the same day.”

Wiggins took a moment to speak about Brooklyn, still speaking of her in the present with a crack in his voice.

“She is one of our sweetest, brightest, most beautiful children. She’s a dream of a student, not just academically- because academics are important, but most important is your character, and Brooklyn had the sweetest disposition. She was a star archer on our archery team, along with her brother,” he said. “I have spent more time crying today, and when I thought I had it out, and I got to the school with Mrs. Hembree and we had a good cry, and of course meeting with the faculty- tears for this child seem endless.”

Wiggins said he met with a grandmother Sunday at the airport and talked about Brooklyn’s love for archery, airplanes and horses.

“We want to let our kids know that we are here for them, beyond today, and if they need anything, just ask anybody and we’ll take care of it for them. We’re going to go through a sadness day. The kids have to know they’re not alone. We’re going to make sure they know that.”

He continued, “We ask for support for the family, prayers for the family and prayers for our school family. Our teachers and our staff are hurting right now. Our kids are going to be hurting tomorrow. They’re going to need a lot of support as well. We just need strength and wisdom and comfort to get through this. There are no words. I had a beautiful opportunity to be with the grandmother today. I can’t imagine the grief of this mother and these two children, but I’m afraid of imagining it. We can’t imagine what the family is going through right now, but we are here for anything that they need.”

Updated 1-5-20 6:45 p.m.

Cullman County Coroner Jeremy L. Kilpatrick has identified the two victims as Tyler Wesley Walker, 40, and his daughter, 10-year-old Brooklyn Walker, of Vinemont.

Updated 1-5-20 3:10 p.m.

Statement from Arlene Salac with the FAA:

“A Vans RV-6 crashed off the end of Runway 2 during departure from Cullman Regional Airport-Folsom Field, Vine(mont), Ala., today at 12:30 p.m. CST. The FAA will investigate and the NTSB will determine the probable cause of the accident.”

Updated 1-5-20 2 p.m.

Cullman Regional Airport General Manager Ben Harrison has confirmed two people died in a plane crash at the airport Sunday.

Harrison said the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) have been notified. 

The Cullman Police Department, Cullman Sheriff’s Office and Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA) are on the scene.

A press conference is scheduled for 5 p.m.

VINEMONT, Ala. – Multiple agencies are responding to a plane crash at Cullman Regional Airport. Cullman Police Chief Kenny Culpepper reported two fatalities.

The Tribune is at the scene. More details to come.

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Wendy Sack