Apr 022013


“They declared an emergency and stated their engine was running at partial power.”

Brian Rayner

National Traffic Safety Board Administration investigator

By Katherine Ayers and Kristin Zachary

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

An East Carolina University English teaching instructor and her husband were killed in a plane crash in Winston-Salem on Sunday.

Debra “Debbie” and Dr. Dennis O’Neal, a Washington, N.C., optometrist, were flying their fixed-wing Lancair LC-42 aircraft home to Blounts Creek from the Wilkes County Airport when it crashed in a Winston-Salem residential neighborhood. No houses were hit in the crash.

Both husband and wife were rated pilots.

National Traffic Safety Board Administration investigator Brian Rayner said the plane was having engine trouble before it crashed.

“They declared an emergency and stated their engine was running at partial power,” Rayner said at a news conference Monday. Air traffic control directed the husband and wife to try to land at Smith-Reynolds Airport in Winston-Salem, but the investigator said the NTSB wasn’t sure how much visibility the two had before they crashed.

Debbie O’Neal had been at ECU since 2004, teaching three sections of English composition and two distance-education sections of English grammar this semester, according to ECU spokeswoman Jeannine Hutson. English Department Chairman Jeffrey Johnson will speak with her classes this week to answer their questions, and counselors also will be available to speak to students.

Johnson said it’s a hard day.

“She was terrific,” he said. “This is a huge loss for our department.”

She also was heavily involved with the East Carolina University Language Academy, which provides intensive English-language instruction to international students and professionals, Hutson said. Her ECU staff Web page said Debbie O’Neal had been with the N.C. Department of Public Instruction’s English as a Second Language initiative across the state prior to working at the university. She also had started Pilots in Pink, a clothing line geared toward female pilots, and was the owner of the now-closed Fired Works Cafe in Greenville.

Dennis O’Neal was an optometrist with Washington Eye Clinic P.A. and had previously worked with the Greenville Eye Clinic and White Eye Associates in Greenville.

He was a board member for the Pitt County Health Department from 1997 to 2000, when he moved from Pitt County, according to Director John Morrow.

“I got to know Dennis in 1997 when I came on the board,” Morrow said on Monday. Dennis O’Neal was the optometrist on the board, one of seven professional positions.

“He helped me a lot just coming into the job here,” Morrow said. “He was just a really great guy. He was a good servant to the public. He thought a lot about health and thought public health was very important.”

Morrow said he met Debbie O’Neal during Dennis’ three-year term on the board but did not know her well.

“I understand she was delightful,” he said. “I was terribly sad to hear the news of their deaths.”

The husband and wife attended services at Congregation Bayt Shalom in Greenville.

“Debbie and Dennis were beloved members,” Rabbi Nicole Luna said. “The Jewish community mourns their tragic deaths.”

According to Dennis O’Neal’s clinic website, he was a board member of The Blind Center of N.C., a Washington-based non-profit dedicated to helping blind or visually impaired people gain greater independence, a member of the Lions Club and had served on a medical mission dedicated to eye service in Haiti from 2000-01 and in Nicaragua from 2005 to the present.

A memorial service is scheduled for Wednesday at Wilkerson Funeral Chapel. More details to come. Online condolences at www.wilkersonfuneralhome.com.

Contact Katherine Ayers at kayers@reflector.com and 252-329-9567. Follow her on Twitter @KatieAyersGDR.

Contact Kristin Zachary at kzachary@reflector.com and 252-329-9566. Follow her on Twitter @kzacharygdr.

via The Daily Reflector.


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