Private plane strays hundreds of miles before crash

By Brian Farkas
The Associated Press
Posted March 19 2006

WINFIELD, W.Va. · A private plane crashed near a rural home in West Virginia after straying hundreds of miles off course as National Guard fighter crews tried unsuccessfully to contact the pilot.

The body of the pilot, the only person on board, was found in the wreckage after the plane crashed Friday night, Todd Gunther, an investigating officer with the National Transportation Safety Board, said Saturday.

There was no immediate indication if he died during or before the crash. No one on the ground was injured.

Gunther identified the pilot as William R. Cammack, 56, of St. Paul, Minn.

The twin-engine Beech Baron 56TC took off from Glendive, Mont., Friday evening for a 600-mile flight to St. Paul, Minn., Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman Holly Baker said Saturday. The pilot's flight plan said he would be flying at 27,000 feet.

Air traffic controllers lost contact with the plane when it was being transferred from the Salt Lake City regional control center to the Minneapolis Control Center and alerted the National Guard, Gunther said.

The pilots of F-16s based in Wisconsin intercepted the plane near Madison, Wis., and tracked it to Michigan, where it was picked up by pilots of two F-16s based near Detroit.

The military pilots fired flares to attract the pilot's attention, but were not able to make contact. They tracked it until the moment of the crash, officials said.

"Our aircraft had the civilian aircraft in sight when it abruptly began to descend," said Staff Sgt. Dan Heaton of Michigan's 127th Air National Guard unit.

Frank Chapman, director of Putnam County's emergency services office, said the plane missed a house by about 250 feet, crashing in the only clear spot between the house and a wooded hillside.

Homeowner Gary Young said he heard the F-16s circling overhead, and went to investigate about 30 minutes later when he saw a helicopter with a spotlight flying over his house. Young said he found the wreckage and Cammack's body.

The pilot's brother, David Cammack, said in St. Paul that his brother owned the plane and an industrial cleaning chemical company, and was flying home after a business trip.

"Flying was his passion," said David Cammack, who answered the phone at his brother's home. "It's tragic he died doing what he loved."

The crash was reminiscent of a 1999 chartered jet crash that killed pro golfer Payne Stewart and four others.

That plane flew halfway across the country on autopilot before crashing in a pasture in South Dakota.

Everyone on board had apparently lost consciousness for lack of oxygen after a loss of cabin pressure, and the plane crashed after running out of fuel, investigators said.