Kanawha plane crash victims ID’d

KENNY KEMP | Sunday Gazette-Mail
Dennis Diaz of the National Transportation Safety Board holds a news conference Saturday to discuss early details of the plane crash in Kanawha County that killed two people Friday evening.
KENNY KEMP | Sunday Gazette-Mail
Pratt resident Chris Buckanan, 42, and his son, Christopher, 13, look at the hill where they saw the Piper PA-32 go down Friday.
KENNY KEMP | Sunday Gazette-Mail
Debris from the plane crash is scattered on the hillside across the river from Pratt.

A husband and wife from Ohio were identified Saturday as the two people killed Friday evening in a Kanawha County plane crash.

Lazarus Enoch Sommers, 50, and Maryann Sommers, 56, of Millersburg, Ohio, were aboard the Piper PA-32 aircraft when it crashed into a wooded hillside just before 5 p.m. Friday. The crash was about a mile from U.S. 60 between Glasgow and Hugheston, Cpl. Brian Humphreys of the Kanawha County Sheriff’s Department confirmed Saturday afternoon during a news conference at an emergency staging site in Cedar Grove. Humphreys could not confirm the purpose of the flight, but said the husband and wife were the only people aboard the plane. Officials said the couple were on their way to South Carolina but that the purpose of the flight or what led to Friday’s crash were not known.

The plane came from Akron Fulton International Airport, in Ohio, and was headed to Spartanburg Downtown Memorial Airport, in South Carolina. 

Federal officials said Friday the pilot had requested help navigating around bad weather, according to Lawrence Messina, spokesman for the West Virginia Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety. 

“Locating the crash site was, of course, difficult because of the topography — the land is very difficult to navigate,” Humphreys said. “They had trouble reaching it in vehicles, so they called in for some ATVs, and local residents offered their ATVs, as well. Local law enforcement were finally able to locate it from an ATV, but they still had to walk on foot to get to the site.”

Dennis Diaz, an air safety investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board, said the NTSB arrived Saturday morning to gather perishable information and document the site for its investigation. Diaz said a preliminary report on the crash will be issued in the next 10 days but that a full report of the crash, including probable cause, could take up to a year.

“This is a very long process, so even though we’re going to be wrapping up our on-scene investigation in the next day or so, the investigation will continue for quite some time,” Diaz said. “The preliminary report will include what, where and when, but not the why and the how. That comes much later.”

Diaz said the small plane was not equipped with a flight data recorder, or “black box,” but the NTSB can use other items, such as handheld devices or other electronic devices to provide clues to the cause of the crash.

During recovery efforts Saturday, the agency retrieved personal documents, a pilot log book, an electronic tablet and other items from the site. Recovered items recovered will be transported to a facility in Delaware for analysis, he said.

“Additionally, we’re going to be looking at the history of the aircraft, including its production history and maintenance history, as well as the pilot’s history — his certificates and ratings in health, and any other pertinent information that may be available to us,” Diaz said. “We will also look to understand the environment surrounding the accident, as we would in any investigation, and that will include air traffic control communications, radar data provided by the FAA, and weather information.”

Chris Buchanan, 42, was at his home on Pratt Avenue in Pratt, across the Kanawha River from the crash site, Friday evening when the crash occurred.

He heard a revving, struggling engine and went outside, where his son was already in the yard looking up at the plane.

“The engine was cutting on and off on it; I don’t know if it was running out of fuel or what. It would shut off and kick back up and, the last time it shut off, it just hit the woods,”Buchanan said. 

Buchanan said it was no more than 15 or 20 seconds after he first heard the struggling plane before he saw it hit the mountain.

“It never did catch fire — you could see the whole thing. It just hit the woods and that was it. There wasn’t a flame, wasn’t smoke, nothing,”he said. “I hate to say it — it was like a front-row seat. It was crazy. I hope to God I never see it again.”

Anyone who witnessed the crash is encouraged to contact the NTSB by emailing witness@ntsb.gov.

Reach Lydia Nuzum at lydia.nuzum@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5189.

Reach David Gutman at david.gutman@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5119.

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