A private plane being piloted by a Minnesota man crashed near a rural estate 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, William R. Cammack Jr., 56, of St. Paul, Minn., 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. Cammack's body has been taken to the West Virginia medical examiner's office in South Charleston for an autopsy. He was the only person on board. No one on the ground was injured.
The twin-engine Beech Baron 56TC took off from Glendive, Mont., Friday evening for a 600-mile flight to St. Paul, 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 been transferred from the Salt Lake City Regional Control Center to the Minneapolis Control Center, Gunther said.
The FAA alerted the National Guard after the plane "overflew its destination," 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 the house owned by Gary Young by about 250 feet when it crashed in the only clear spot between the home and a wooded hillside.
Young said he did not initially realize the plane had crashed in his backyard because all he heard were the F-16s circling overhead. The area near the Kanawha River in Putnam County is frequented by military aircraft for training exercises.
He went to investigate about 30 minutes after the crash when he saw a helicopter with a spotlight flying over his house.
Young said he went out to the wreckage and found Cammack's body. He check for a pulse and found none.
The pilot's brother, David Cammack, said in St. Paul that his brother owned the plane and an industrial cleaning chemical company. He was flying home after a business trip.
"Flying was his passion," said David Cammack, who answered the phone at his brother's home Saturday. "It's tragic he died doing what he loved."
The crash was reminiscent of a 1999 charter 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 it ran out of fuel, investigators said.
Gunther would not say Saturday if Cammack's plane had run out of fuel. There was no evidence of a fire at the crash scene.
The wreckage will remain at the crash site for two days when it will be removed to a hangar. The NTSB hopes to have a preliminary report within 10 days and a final report in six months, Gunther
(Copyright 2006 by the Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)