A sports reporter related to a Louisiana State University football coach was among the five people who died on their way to the team’s playoff game Saturday after a small plane crashed in Lafayette, Louisiana, authorities said.
The reporter, Carley McCord, 30, was a daughter-in-law of Steve Ensminger, the offensive coordinator for LSU. She and the other passengers were heading to Atlanta, where top-ranked LSU defeated Oklahoma in the Peach Bowl on Saturday for a spot in the national championship game.
Ed Orgeron, the head coach for LSU, said in a pregame interview with ESPN that Ensminger and his family were distraught but that he would still coach the game.
“Steve’s a Tiger, he’s a man, he knows how to handle things,” Orgeron said.
Ensminger, a Louisiana native who played quarterback for LSU in the 1970s, took the field about 45 minutes before kickoff, clad in a purple and gold windbreaker. He was shown on television calling plays from the booth during the game.
McCord covered football and basketball as a freelance reporter for Cox Sports Television, ESPN3 and WDSU, a television station in New Orleans, according to her website. She also had worked as a digital media reporter for the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame and as an in-game host, an emcee role, at games for the New Orleans Saints and the New Orleans Pelicans.
All of the plane’s passengers appeared to have been flying to Atlanta for the game, said Alton Trahan, a spokesman for the Lafayette Fire Department.
But the plane crashed into the parking lot of a post office shortly before 9:30 a.m., less than 2 miles from the Lafayette Regional Airport, where it had taken off. The crash sent chunks of metal into a nearby field and flames billowing near mail trucks.
An exterior wall of the brick post office was left blackened. The site of the crash was near several apartment complexes, restaurants and other businesses. Nearby residents said that their lights went out after they heard the crash.
In addition to McCord, authorities identified the victims as Ian E. Biggs, 51, the pilot; Robert Vaughn Crisp II, 59; Gretchen D. Vincent, 51; and Michael Walker Vincent, 15.
Only one of the six people aboard the two-engine Piper Cheyenne plane survived the crash. He was identified as Stephen Wade Berzas, 37, and was taken to a hospital in critical condition, fire officials said.
When it crashed, the plane struck a car in the post office parking lot, engulfing the car in flames and injuring someone inside, said Trahan, the spokesman. That person and two Postal Service workers were taken to local hospitals, he added.
Nearby hospitals confirmed receiving two people in critical condition. One was a woman on the ground who was taken to Lafayette General Medical Center and transferred to the University Medical Center New Orleans. The other person in critical condition was taken to Our Lady of Lourdes Regional Medical Center in Lafayette.
Information on the other two patients was not immediately available.
Lois Comeaux was at a Walmart near the post office when she heard a “big boom,” she said, and the store went dark. Comeaux, who lives about 300 feet from where the plane crashed, said that she could see pieces of the plane behind the post office, and that some of the post office’s windows had been blown out by the force of the crash.
“There’s a big vacant lot, and there are three big pieces of plane,” she said from near the scene.
Rebecca Simon said she had just pulled into her garage, less than a mile from the site of the crash, when she heard a plane fly unusually low over her house.
“Right after, there was a really loud noise that shook the garage door, and the electricity blinked, then went out,” she said.
Simon’s roommate called the electricity company to find out what was going on, but then they heard sirens and went outside.
Fellow sports reporters recalled McCord’s passion and upbeat attitude — both on and off the sidelines. In addition to her journalism career, McCord finished twice as the first runner-up in the Miss Louisiana competition, in 2011 and 2012, winning $10,000 in scholarships. In 2013, she auditioned for “The Bachelor,” appearing in a Pierre Thomas Saints jersey. In outtakes from the audition, McCord said that she was a nationally ranked powerlifter at age 14, and that she enjoyed competing in fantasy football.
Jennifer Hale, a sideline reporter for Fox Sports and Fox Sports New Orleans, said she had mentored McCord and watched her successfully balance the demands of being an in-game host for the Pelicans with her work as a television correspondent.
“That’s a difficult balance to go from the cheerful, fun-loving emcee to being the journalist who sometimes has to ask tough questions,” Hale said, adding that McCord was a hard worker who made the most of her opportunities.
“She had it all going on,” Hale said. “She had this zest for life. She was certainly an up-and-comer in the Louisiana sports world.”
Joel Vilmenay, president and general manager of WDSU, said the station was devastated by her death.
“Carley’s passion for sports journalism and her deep knowledge of Louisiana sports, from high school to the professional ranks, made her an exceptional journalist,” he said in a statement.
The Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board are investigating the crash, which is the second to kill a Louisiana television reporter this year.
In August, Nancy Parker, 53, an Emmy Award-winning journalist for Fox 8 in New Orleans, died when a Pitts S2B aerobatic airplane crashed shortly after takeoff. Parker had been working on a story about the biplane’s pilot, who was also killed in the crash at New Orleans Lakefront Airport.
“Everybody is just in shock,” said Hale, who said that Parker had been her mentor. “No way. How does this happen to two amazing, wonderful people within a few months of each other?”