Probe into the cause of plane crash begins

May 02, 2006|By DON AINES


The pilot of a small plane found Sunday in a remote part of Montgomery Township died of injuries sustained when the plane crashed last week, according to Franklin County Coroner Jeffrey R. Conner.

The body of David K. Weiss, 72, was removed Monday morning from the wreckage of the Cessna 172 and the autopsy was performed at Lehigh Valley Medical Center in Allentown, Pa., in the afternoon, Conner said. He listed the cause of death of the Bethesda, Md., man as multiple blunt force trauma.

"At this time, the pathologist has not found a medical cause for the accident," Conner said. The autopsy indicated Weiss was alive at the time of crash, but Conner would not comment on whether the pilot died instantly or might have survived the initial impact.


Weiss's sons, Mark and Steve, discovered the crash site on a mountain slope at about 12:30 p.m. Sunday, according to the Civil Air Patrol. The Civil Air Patrol had narrowed the search area based on cell phone information, radar plots supplied by the Federal Aviation Administration and other information garnered by investigators since the plane was reported missing April 25.

Conner said the sons joined the search and were with Civil Air Patrol members before splitting up.

"They took that path and the Civil Air Patrol took another path," he said.

More than 200 Civil Air Patrol members and volunteers from several states, along with about 20 aircraft, were involved in the search Sunday, a Civil Air Patrol official said.

At the crash site near the top of a mountain ridge about a half-mile north of the Mason-Dixon Line, debris was spread out over a few hundred feet. One wing of the blue-and-white, single-engine plane was ripped from the fuselage and pieces of paper, some under the heading "U.S. Terminal Procedures" were tangled in the underbrush.

The plane appeared to have plowed through several smaller trees, before wrapping itself around two larger ones. The airplane's instrument panel, with the clock stuck at 10:50, was 30 feet from the pilot's seat. The steering yoke was another 15 feet from there.

It could be a year or more before the National Transportation Safety Board issues a report listing the probable cause of the crash, said Paul Cox, a senior air safety investigator with the NTSB. A preliminary report on the crash will be released in approximately 10 days, he said.

That would be followed in four to six months by a factual report and four to six months later by a final report by a five-member NTSB panel in Washington, D.C., he said.

Representatives from the manufacturer of the Cessna and the engine manufacturer, Lycoming, were at the crash site Monday as "parties to the investigation," Cox said. The makers of aircraft and components are often called in to assist in an investigation, he said.

The plane, registered to the Congressional Flying Club of Gaithersburg, Md., was built in 1971, he said.

Weiss's body was not removed until Monday to allow investigators to "document perishable information at the crash site," Cox said. Moving debris or otherwise disturbing the site before that could complicate the investigation, he said.

The job of removing the wreckage would begin today, Cox said.

Information about the plane's heading, last known position and altitude before the crash could be available in the preliminary report, Cox said. He would not speculate on the time or possible causes of the accident, such as engine failure or fuel problems.

Conner said Weiss's body was being released Monday afternoon to a Bethesda funeral home.

Staff writer Jennifer Fitch contributed to this story.

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