ANGIER, N.C. (WNCN) – The Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board are investigating a small plane crash that happened Tuesday afternoon off N.C. 55 near the Wake/Harnett county line.

The pilot was the only person on board and survived.

The plane went down just after 1:15 p.m. behind a Dollar General store near the intersection of N.C. 55 and Maude Stewart Road, just north of Angier.

The FAA told CBS 17 Tuesday evening that the crash happened as the pilot was trying to land at Fuquay/Angier Airfield Tuesday afternoon. The crash scene is about a half-mile from the airport.

The North Carolina State Highway Patrol identified the pilot as 78-year-old Rodney Whipple, who federal records show, lives in the Angier area. Medics took Whipple to WakeMed with what troopers described as non-life threatening injuries.

Troopers told CBS 17 Whipple reported hitting birds and said he had to take evasive action. Whipple’s plane hit several trees as it descended.

(CBS 17 photo)

Investigators will ultimately determine the circumstances.

JaQuaun Dupree was at the Dollar General near the crash scene for work when he heard the plane, and then saw the crash.

“When he hit the tree, the plane went down kind of slowly behind the store,” Dupree said, adding he was relieved to see the pilot emerge from the plane.

“(Others) helped get him out of the plane,” Dupree said. “He didn’t look like he was too hurt or whatever — said he hit a flock of birds.”

Fellow pilots said Whipple is a member at the Fuquay/Angier Airport.

The plane involved in the crash is a single-engine Thatcher CX4, according to the FAA. A decal on the plane indicates it is an “experimental” plane, a category of aircraft that can include planes built at home.

Federal records indicate the plane was up to date on its certification – which expires in late 2024 – and that the plane’s first flight was in mid-2011.

Despite markings on the plane that said “U.S. Air Force,” records show the plane is registered to Whipple.

The FAA said the NTSB will be in charge of the investigation moving forward.