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Pilot in fatal crash tried to avoid rain, NTSB says

The pilot who crashed his plane in eastern Kanawha County earlier this month was trying to maneuver around rain, according to a preliminary report released by the National Transportation Safety Board on Tuesday.

The April 11 crash of the Piper PA-32 aircraft killed commercial pilot Lazarus Enoch Sommers, 50, and his wife, Maryann Sommers, 56, both of Millersburg, Ohio.

Two witnesses told investigators it started raining shortly after they saw the plane fly nose-down and crash into a wooded hillside near their homes.

According to the NTSB’s preliminary report, Sommers and his wife left Ohio’s Akron Fulton International Airport at 3:13 p.m. They were headed to Spartanburg Downtown Memorial Airport in South Carolina.

Preliminary air traffic control information provided to the NTSB by the Federal Aviation Administration indicated that after departure, Sommers climbed to an altitude of 12,000 feet. He established radio communications, and at about 4:12 p.m., asked for and was cleared to make a 30-degree left turn around an area of rain.

Sommers started the turn and began to descend, telling radio controllers that he was “deviating around weather,” according to the report.

The airplane then turned right, made a 270-degree turn and began heading south, and then southwest. Controllers lost radio and radar contact with the plane at about 4:53 p.m. That’s when emergency operators began receiving calls about the crash, according to the report.

Witnesses described the plane’s engine as “loud” as it went over their homes. They later heard the sound of impact, but did not see any smoke or fire near the crash site, which was located near Riverside, about a mile from U.S. 60 between Glasgow and Hugheston, according to the report.

Investigators found the wreckage with the plane’s right wingtip mostly intact. They also found pieces of both wings, the vertical stabilizer, rudder and left and right stabilizers. They measured the wreckage path at about 300 feet in length.

The wreckage was recovered to a NTSB storage facility, where a closer examination of the airframe and engine was scheduled for a later date, according to the report. Investigators previously told reporters that a full report of the crash, including probable cause, could take up to a year.

Reach Travis Crum at or 304-348-5163.

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