Tuesday November 16, 2010

COPAKE, N.Y. -- Authorities say the two victims of last week's plane crash near Catamount Ski Area died of "multiple traumatic injuries."

West Stockbridge resident Margaret "Peggy" Noonan, 63, and the plane's pilot, John Welch, 64, of Concord, N.H., were listed as the victims of the crash by the Columbia County Sheriff's Office.

The two were planning on marrying, a friend told the Times Union newspaper in Albany.

"The death certificates [state] ‘multiple traumatic injuries,' which they certainly have," said Dr. Jeffrey Hubbard, a forensic pathologist who worked on the autopsies on Sunday at St. Peter's Hospital in Albany.

Still, he said, there is a possibility that other factors, including medical conditions or the fire that followed the crash, could have contributed to the accident.

"Proving someone is alive when they hit the ground like this is very difficult," he said.

Berkshire County is no stranger to plane accidents, including those caused by underlying medical conditions. In 2003, a fatal plane crash in Tyringham was linked to the pilot having a heart attack.

Hubbard said the Federal Aviation Administration would be running toxicologic analysis on the two bodies as well, in hopes of finding more clues as to what caused the fatal crash.

The wreckage of Welch's inverted and burned single-engine Mooney airplane was found Friday by a hunter on Mount Fray, just across the Massachusetts border in New York.

Officials said they believed the plane went down at around 7:50 p.m. on Wednesday, estimating that the two-day gap was attributed to the pilot flying a non-monitored flight at night from Albany to Great Barrington, Mass.

Dental records definitively confirmed that Noonan was one of the victims of the crash, Hubbard said. Bone and dental X-rays are being analyzed by medical officials to definitively confirm that second victim is indeed Welch. Results for that second autopsy are expected in the next few days.

"There's no surprises," Hubbard added. "There were two bodies, both obviously being killed in the crash."

Dr. George Davis, the coroner who handled the crash, declined to comment, saying he would have more information in the coming days. Messages to the Columbia County Sheriff's Office were not returned by presstime.