CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A Charleston man who enjoyed flying and building planes and whose family incorporated West Virginia Steel Corp. was the lone person killed in a plane crash Monday afternoon in Georgetown, S.C., according to multiple media reports.John Prince Harris, 79, crashed about a half mile south of the Georgetown County Airport in South Carolina after 1 p.m., officials told The Sun News of Myrtle Beach, S.C.The National Transportation Safety Board said on its Twitter account that it is investigating the crash, which involved a Folland Gnat T-1 aircraft.Kenny Johnson, the coroner for Georgetown County, identified Harris as the pilot and said he and his wife own a home in the area, according to media reports.
Johnson, who could not be reached for comment Monday night, told media outlets that Harris had departed Charleston on Monday and was flying to visit his wife and other family members who were in the area.Harris also had been a pilot in the Air National Guard, according to two former employees at West Virginia Steel.Jack McLane of Eleanor worked for Harris for 43 years."I know John well," McLane said. "He was so particular and careful about flying."Harris housed his own plane at Yeager Airport, McLane said, and had once flown C-130 Hercules cargo planes with the National Guard.
Harris' father, J. Roy Harris, was an original incorporator of West Virginia Steel Corp. in 1934. J. Roy Harris also founded a few other industrial companies and had been president of the Charleston Lions Club and a charter member of Berry Hills Country Club, according to his 1996 obituary.
At the time of his father's death at age 95, John Prince Harris was president of West Virginia Steel, he told the Charleston Daily Mail at the time.
Poca Mayor Jim Caruthers, who worked at West Virginia Steel Corp. as a project manager for about 15 years, remembers Harris well and refers to him mostly as "John P.""John was a heck of a nice guy -- very intelligent, a real dry wit," he said.
He remembers one joke that Harris shared with him, saying, "The way to have a successful small business in West Virginia was to start with a successful large business."He was a little critical of West Virginia's tax structures," Caruthers said with a laugh.
Caruthers recalled Harris building his own plane, which could seat at least one person."He built a Styrofoam pattern for the internal shape of the nose of the plane," Caruthers remembered.Caruthers, who is also a former Putnam County commissioner, said Harris never spent a great deal of time at West Virginia Steel's plant, but he had real leadership abilities."He just had that leadership appearance and demeanor. When he got mad, you knew it," he said, but later added, " … John was a real stand-up guy. West Virginia Steel was not known to lavish people with overpayment with salaries, but they also never laid you off."He did well by a lot of employees," he said.McLane said Harris was "a good guy and a good friend," and someone you wouldn't peg as being from a wealthy family.
"John was a very hard worker, conscientious. He was pretty modest in his dress," McLane said. "… He was just a common, down-to-earth guy."