Mark Bright

Mark Bright, who died in a plane crash Tuesday, felt most in his element when he was in the cockpit of an aircraft.

Mark Bright loved food and Coca-Cola. But the thing he loved most was flying, say his friends.

Bright was indulging in that passion Tuesday when the single-engine plane the 27-year-old was piloting crashed shortly after takeoff from a private airstrip south of Schlater.

“He just took off, the witnesses say, and he got up in the air to make a turn, and the motor just stalled out on him, and he came straight down to the ground,” said Leflore County Sheriff Ricky Banks.

Bright died in the crash, which occurred around 8 p.m.  No one else was on board, according to Leflore County Coroner Debra Sanders.

The Federal Aviation Administration is investigating, and the National Transportation Safety Board will determine the probable cause of the accident, said Kathleen Bergen, communications manager with the FAA in Atlanta.

Keith Holloway, a media relations officer with NTSB, said it usually takes 12 to 18 months before a cause is determined.

An autopsy on Bright will also be conducted, Sanders said.

Bright was flying a 1976 Bellanca Citabria, a fixed-wing, twin-seat pleasure aircraft that he and two others had purchased in 2016.

Bright had just lifted off from the airstrip at Schlater Ag Air, a crop-dusting service owned in part by Bright’s father, Gary Bright, when the plane experienced problems.

The plane dove nose first into the airstrip, but there was no fire at the crash scene, Banks said.

Bright is also survived by his mother, Jo, and sister, Becca.

He lived in Greenwood and worked at D&T Farms in Itta Bena.

“He was a major part of everything here,” said one of his employers, David Grossman, who still on Wednesday morning was too emotional to talk more about Bright’s death.

Bright drove tractors and cotton pickers, operated chemical sprayers and seed planters, did it all really, but his long-term goal was to be a crop duster.

He was almost there. About two weeks ago, after taking lessons for a year from Bill Henderson at Cotton Belt Aviation, Bright earned his

 commercial rating, said Henderson’s son, Wade, also a pilot.

Bright kept his plane at the Hendersons’ hangar, where it rarely sat long enough to gather a good layer of dust.

“He loved flying, I know that,” said Wade Henderson. “He was out there every day after work going somewhere.”

Gage Long graduated a few years behind Bright from Pillow Academy, but the two had become best friends in recent years.

“He literally made everyone happy. ... He was just the life of everybody around,” said Long.

“He was the kind of guy who would bring a smile to your face whenever he came into the room,” echoed another friend, Parker Harris.

Long said he and Bright, who went by the nickname “Ginger,” talked almost every day, usually right before or right after lunch. Bright was like clockwork around mealtime. “At 12 o’clock and 5 o’clock, he wanted to know where we were going to eat.”

Whether lunch or dinner, Bright always washed the food down with a Coke.

The two talked about hunting, about their farm jobs and about the weather.

“It didn’t matter if there was a 5 percent chance or 100 percent, he’d ask me if it was going to rain today,” Long said.

When the weather was good and their farming duties slacked off, the two would fly in Bright’s plane once or twice a week.

Last September, Bright flew Long to the Atlanta area to pick up a new dog, a springer spaniel, saving his friend 15 hours behind the wheel of a car.

“He loved helping other people,” Long said.

Did Long call Bright on the day of the fatal crash?

“I was so busy yesterday, I didn’t,” Long said Wednesday. “And I hate I didn’t.”

Contact Tim Kalich at 581-7243 or tkalich@gwcommonwealth.com.’

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