BLAIRSVILLE, Ga. — It happened just days before Christmas, but because a deadly plane crash came right at the beginning of the government shutdown, it was one of 15 such cases not investigated by the National Transportation Safety Board.
The plane crash happened in Blairsville and claimed the lives of three passengers, 56-year-old Robert Atkinson, 55-year-old Renea Greinerand and 50-year-old Michelle Seay.
Unlike some crashes reported around metro Atlanta and north Georgia, the people aboard this crash weren't just visiting. Each was from the Blairsville area according to the Federal Aviation Administration.
So the quest for answers took on a personal tone for community members who knew the victims and the one survivor. But, because the federal government was in what became a record-breaking shutdown, one agency in charge of finding them wasn't able to respond.
Now they're returning to pick up the remaining cases around the country.
"Of the 397 agency staff, 367 employees were furloughed, 26 employees were excepted, and four investigators were recalled and worked without pay to support investigations of three international aviation accidents," the NTSB said in a statement on Monday.
They later confirmed that the three killed in Blairsville were among 21 who died in aviation accidents. More of an issue now is the amount of time that has passed. And the NTSB warned in their statement that of the cases they didn't' respond to, investigators may not actually go out to the sites now to pick up the investigation - and valuable evidence may have already perished.
So, the search for answers - and closure for a north Georgia community - may take longer than first expected. Or, without enough evidence to determine probable cause, the answers might not come at all.
The plane crashes are just a small portion of the overall backlog the agency will now face.
Nationwide, agents will be looking into three marine accidents, two railroad accidents resulting in two fatalities, two highway accidents resulting in seven deaths and 15 injuries and 22 accidents that now require an active investigation.
The shutdown also halted nearly 2,000 of ongoing investigations - many of them related to general aviation.
And stopped work in the NTSB's Office of Research and Engineering in hundreds of cases.
Time will tell if the three-week reprieve in the government shutdown lasts - with Congress and the White House desperately trying to come to terms over border wall funding - or if the legislative and executive branches are forced into stalemate again.
If the latter happens, the NTSB may find itself adding even more cases to its backlog.