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Plane, pilot found in Pa.

May 01, 2006|by DON AINES and JENNIFER FITCH

MERCERSBURG, PA.

Hundreds of Civil Air Patrol volunteers searched the wooded and mountainous terrain of Franklin County, Pa., for five days, but it was the sons of a missing Maryland pilot who Sunday discovered the body of their father in the twisted wreckage of a small aircraft in a sparsely populated area of Montgomery Township.

David K. Weiss, 72, of Bethesda, Md., had been missing since shortly after his noon takeoff Tuesday from Montgomery County (Md.) Airpark, about 70 miles southeast of where the plane was found. Weiss was on a routine requalification flight to maintain his pilot's license, according to authorities.

The wreckage of the single-engine Cessna 172 was found by Steve and Mark Weiss at about 12:30 p.m. under foliage on a wooded mountain slope about two miles off Punch Bowl Road outside Mercersburg. The pair earlier was given a radio and used it to contact a nearby ground team comprised of some of the more than 200 people involved in the search Sunday, said Lt. Col. Robert Ayers of the Civil Air Patrol, who was stationed at Hagerstown Regional Airport.

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"We found the wreckage of the aircraft with no survivor," Ayers said. A Pennsylvania State Police helicopter that hovered over the crash site after the discovery verified that the wreckage could not be seen from the air because it was concealed by the terrain and foliage, authorities said.

Weiss's body was to remain at the crash site overnight, Franklin County Coroner Jeffrey R. Conner said during a press conference Sunday night at the St. Thomas Volunteer Fire Co. The body is to be removed from the wreckage today and an autopsy is scheduled for 1 p.m. at Forensic Pathology Associates of Allentown, Pa.

"I can tell you from the family that Mr. Weiss had no medical problems," Conner said.

The cause of the crash was unknown Sunday evening and the National Transportation Safety Board will be conducting the investigation, which could take a month or more, Ayers said.

Operations were turned over to state police once searchers found Weiss's body, Ayers said.

"The police are responsible for all deaths not natural," he said.

The wreckage was found off a logging road in a wooded area behind Mount Tabor Brethren In Christ Church at 12283 Punch Bowl Road, Conner said.

In addition to Civil Air Patrol units from Pennsylvania, Maryland and West Virginia, searchers were dispatched from as far as the Carolinas, said Pennsylvania State Police Trooper Ed Asbury of the Chambersburg, Pa., barracks.

Conner said the Civil Air Patrol was "in this for the duration and they fully intended to find one of their own."

Approximately 20 aircraft were in the skies over the region Sunday as they narrowed the search area based on cell phone and recorded radar data, Ayers said. The search resumed at about 6 a.m. Sunday.

Had the search stretched into a second week, it would have been suspended, Ayers said.

After Weiss's plane failed to return Tuesday, attempts to call his cell phone were routed to a cell tower in St. Thomas, Pa., authorities said last week. Civil Air Patrol spokesman Capt. Steven Solomon said Sunday that officials also used Federal Aviation Administration radar plots and interviews with people who reported seeing or hearing a plane in the area to narrow the search area.

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