HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. - Robert Gary Jones was a pharmaceutical salesman on a business trip, looking forward to getting home to celebrate his daughter's third birthday. He was enjoying a moment to himself on this resort island, jogging on the beach and listening to his iPod.
Officials say the Woodstock, Ga., man neither saw nor heard what struck him from behind Monday evening: a single-engine plane making an emergency landing.
The Lancair IV-P aircraft, which can be built from a kit, had lost its propeller and was "basically gliding" as it hit and instantly killed Jones, said Ed Allen, the coroner for Beaufort County on the South Carolina coast.
"There's no noise," said aviation expert Mary Schiavo, a former inspector general for the National Transportation Safety Board. "So the jogger, with his ear buds in, and the plane without an engine, you're basically a stealth aircraft. Who would expect to look up?" The pilot, Edward I. Smith of Chesapeake, Va., and his lone passenger both walked away from the crash landing near the Hilton Head Marriott Resort and Spa.
Marshall Clary was sitting in his home office overlooking the beach when the crash happened about 6:10 p.m. He said he heard nothing when the plane hit Jones and didn't realize something was wrong until he heard emergency helicopters overhead a short time later.
From his back deck, he saw the plane about 100 yards from where emergency responders used a sheet to cover the bloodied body of a man wearing jogging shorts.
Jones, a 38-year-old salesman for pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline, was in Hilton Head on a business trip and was looking forward to returning home for his daughter's birthday today, his mother said.
Pauline Jones, of Dunedin, Fla., described him as "great son, a wonderful husband." She said he lived in Atlanta with his wife, Jennifer, their daughter and a 5-year-old son.
"I was never so shocked in all my life," Pauline Jones said, her voice shaking. "They say that God only gives you what you can handle. I said, 'You know what, I've reached my max.' "
The plane took off from Orlando, Fla., at 4:45 p.m. Monday and was en route to Virginia when it started leaking oil at about 13,000 feet, said Joheida Fister, spokeswoman for Hilton Head Island fire and rescue.
Fister said the pilot determined he couldn't make it to Hilton Head Airport. He told authorities oil on the windshield blocked his vision and the propeller had come off, forcing him to attempt a landing on the beach.
Smith confirmed he was flying the plane when he returned to the scene yesterday, when the four-seater aircraft was hoisted onto a trailer hitched to a pickup truck and towed from the beach. Speaking in a subdued voice, Smith said he didn't want to talk about the crash.
"I've got a lot of issues going on right now," Smith said.
"I've got a plane that's all torn up. And I've got a young man that I killed."
Authorities did not identify the passenger who was flying with Smith.
The Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board were investigating, Fister said.