Gregg Hartley, 54, of Boothbay Harbor, and his passenger, Timothy Ladd, 59, of Hallowell, Maine, were identified by state police, who were investigating yesterday's crash. The crash was reported by a local resident at about 8:15 a.m.
Six minutes earlier, air traffic controllers at Bradley International Airport in Hartford, Conn., reported losing radio and radar contact with the plane and pilot, according to FAA spokesman Jim Peters.
Peters said Bradley's air traffic controllers received no word of trouble from the pilot before communication was lost, about 12 miles south of a radar site in Chester, located about 20 miles east of Tyringham. At that point, the plane was at 12,000 feet, said Peters.
It's not yet clear if heavy thunderstorms rolling through the area yesterday morning played a part in the crash, but for Elizabeth Elliott, of 68 George Cannon Road, the link seemed apparent.
"There was a huge crash of lightning, and then a loud explosion, and then two loud sounds, like pistol shots," she said, adding that she immediately told her husband she believed a plane was somewhere nearby, flying very low.
When she left her house a short time later, she said, she found airplane pieces alongside the driveway, beside the grandchildren's bedroom window and in a play area in the yard.
"I keep thinking about these poor people getting lost in that dense fog, and how that must have felt," she said last evening.
"We don't know yet what happened," said Fire Chief James Curtin. "But the plane went right into a thunderstorm (yesterday) morning. It's possible the plane was hit by lightning. It came straight out of the sky when it crashed."
The storm, said Curtin, "blew in here pretty darn quick. It lit up the whole sky over here."
The plane, a 1968 Piper Cherokee fixed-wing, single engine craft, was registered to Hartley Marine Services in Boothbay Harbor, Maine, of which Gregg Hartley is named as president.
The business provides marine transport, towing and tug services along the Eastern seaboard.
"We're still trying to sort things out here," said a woman handling calls at the marine business yesterday.
Peters said a flight plan was filed with the FAA prior to the flight, which originated yesterday morning from an airport in Wiscasett, Maine.
Because two fatalities were involved, the case has been turned over to the National Transportation Safety Board, which has dispatched an investigator to the accident site. Local officials cordoned off the crash site and prevented access to it yesterday.
Curtin said the NTSB will be dispatching an investigator from Atlanta, and state and local officials believe that portion of the investigation may not begin until today.
NTSB Investigator Dennis Diaz said the age of the plane 39 years old does not necessarily raise particular concern. However, the plane's maintenance history will be checked along with weather conditions, pilot issues, air traffic control procedures and any other potential accident factors.
Curtin said the crash site is about three miles from the intersection of Tyringham Road and George Cannon Road. The latter is a dirt road that runs north and connects with Goose Pond Road.
The area is heavily wooded, but Curtin said the crash site was only about 50 feet from the road.
"We were lucky, if you could call it that, because the site was close to the road," he said.
Curtin said the debris train is considerable, stretching over 1,000 yards from the crash site.
According to FAA records, Hartley was issued a private pilot's license in 1992, and received his most recent medical certification in September 2006.
According to the Berkshire County District Attorney's office, autopsies of both men will be conducted today at the office of the chief medical examiner in Holyoke.
In June 2003, a local resident and pilot, J. Player Crosby, died when his plane crashed after take-off from a landing strip near his home on Jerusalem Road in Tyringham. That crash was attributed to a heart attack.
The George Cannon Road location was treated as a crime scene yesterday, with Massachusetts State Police in charge of the initial investigation.
Throughout the day, state police vehicles entered and exited the site. The bodies were recovered and removed from the crash site within a few hours of the crash, according to police. At about 3 p.m., a mobile forensics laboratory was trucked in.
However, it was the Tyringham police and fire departments that responded to the 8:15 call reporting a plane down in the area.
The accident is being investigated the FAA, NTSB, the Massachusetts Aeronautics Commission, the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency and Massachusetts State Police.
|Local plane crashes|
Airplane crashes in Berkshire County since 1987, from The Eagle's files: