METZ, W.Va. – Severe weather has been declared as a likely factor in a plane crash that claimed three lives earlier in August, according to the National Transportation Safety Board.
The Piper PA32 was heading from Washington, Indiana, to Myerstown, Pennsylvania, on the evening of Aug. 11 when the pilot encountered a line of strong storms and heavy rains, the report said.
The pilot radioed air traffic control looking for help finding gaps in the storms that stretched along a line across Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania as he flew along their southern edge.
"I'm showing some slight gaps (in the storms), but the whole line off to your left-hand side is moderate to heavy with pockets of extreme," an air traffic controller told the pilot. "I'm just not real sure if they are in fact, gaps from your point of view…"
About nine minutes later, the pilot notified air traffic control they were going to deviate from their planned route to find a path through the storms.
"I'm showing more extreme heavy precipitation just off your left wing there with the small gap at your 12 o'clock and 5 miles," the controller told the pilot.
"Yep, that's what we're looking for," the pilot replied. It was his final communication.
Radar showed the plane first entered an area of light precipitation at 9,500 feet, but the weather became increasingly worse over the next 6 miles with the track eventually heading into an area described as "extreme precipitation." Less than two minutes after the pilot's last report, the plane went into a deep descent.
The wreckage was found about an hour later spread over nearly a mile. Neither the pilot nor his two passengers survived. The pilot's employer said the three were part of the same church and were on their way home after a church-related trip to Indiana.
NTSB investigators found the pilot had been flying since 2005 and had extensive experience with that plane model but did not possess an instrument rating.