Son speaks after mom, 2 others recovered from site of East TN plane crash

David Starling, Kim Smith, and Hunter Starling (Courtesy: WATE/ Samantha Hodges)
David Starling, Kim Smith, and Hunter Starling (Courtesy: WATE/ Samantha Hodges)

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GATLINBURG, Tenn. (WATE) – Officials have recovered three bodies from the site of a plane crash in a mountainous area of eastern Tennessee.

A release from Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials says the park’s rescue team along with a Tennessee Army National Guard helicopter recovered the three victims on Wednesday.

A release from the National Park Service says the three on the plane were 41-year-old David Starling, 42-year-old Kim Smith and 8-year-old Hunter Starling, all from Bradford County, Florida. The wreckage was spotted from a helicopter on Tuesday.

“It’s hard. My mom was my best friend to say the least ,and I didn’t really get to say goodbye,” said Garrett Smith, son of Kim Smith.

Garrett Smith flew to Tennessee after hearing his mom was in a plane crash. He cannot believe that she is suddenly gone.

“She is one in a million. Her heart was bigger than anything I had every known. If she could help someone out, she was there,” said Smith.

On Monday, he thought it was strange that his mom did not text him to say she landed. He did not talk to her right before or during the flight, but she did send a photo of the view outside the plane to other family members.

“She took a picture of the clouds and said, ‘It’s so pretty up here. It looks like Heaven.’” said Smith.

Smith said the photo haunts him because it was like the Lord was sending a signal to everybody. He said it is hard to think that his mom is up there right now.

Other family members were at the Gatlinburg-Pigeon Forge airport waiting for the plane to arrive. They called Smith after learning the plane crashed. Smith was in Florida as the time.

“I kind of lost it. I was trying to find any glimpse of hope,” said Smith

Smith said David Starling is an experienced pilot. Starling previously flew for the Air Force. That is why Smith believes this crash is a freak accident. Smith said the plane was on its descent when it crashed.

“I have flown with David and I trust him 110 percent. I feel like this God’s plan,” said Smith.

Smith said he will remember nothing but his mom’s huge smile and her huge heart. He said his mom and Starling had been dating since July. Starling made his mom incredibly happy and Hunter Starling was one of the sweetest boys he knew, said Smith.

Family in Gatlinburg this week were traveling back home to Florida on Wednesday.

The Cessna 182 aircraft was in route to the Gatlinburg-Pigeon Forge Airport on Monday when it disappeared.

Multiple federal and state agencies were involved in the search and recovery.

*The Associated Press contributed to this report.