CantonRep.com staff report
“The plane was just torn apart,” said Harry Campbell, chief investigator with the Stark County coroner’s office. He estimated debris from the aircraft was scattered over about 100 yards.
Connell, the pilot of the Piper Saratoga, was en route to runway 23 at the Akron-Canton Airport three miles away, according to Kristie Van Auken, an airport official.
The patrol said he was forced to land the plane in the residential area.
Van Auken said the pilot was the only person aboard the seven-passenger plane. Greentown Fire Department Capt. Lorin Geiser said rescue officials believe that Connell was trying to avoid hitting a house at 2017 Charolais St. NW. The plane crashed at about 6 p.m. in the front yard, plowing through the grass before it “tumbled” and came to rest near the driveway, pine trees and a basketball hoop, Geiser said.
The aircraft apparently had flown out of Pennsylvania, said Campbell. Stark County Coroner P.S. Murthy was on the scene and is scheduled to perform an autopsy on Connell today.
Campbell found receipts in Connell’s wallet showing he had breakfast Friday in Washington, D.C. Connell was dressed in a business suit, he said. Two suitcases and other personal items had been on the plane, Campbell said.
The airplane crashed into a playground set and ripped a flagpole out of the ground on impact. The tail of the plane rested next to small pine trees.
Debris from the plane and possibly fuel ignited a fire on the corner of the house, Geiser said. Vinyl siding was damaged and peeled back to the insulation in spots.
Greentown firefighters arrived at the scene about four minutes after the crash, and within five minutes had doused the burning wreckage and flames on the house, Geiser said.
Assisting Greentown were North Canton, Uniontown, Plain Township and Hartville firefighters. The Stark County Sheriff’s Department also was on the scene as was an investigator with the Federal Aviation Administration, Campbell said. A representative of the National Transportation Safety Board was expected to arrive on the scene Friday night.
The empty house, which is between two occupied homes, was in foreclosure, said Sgt. Leo Shirkey of the Ohio Highway Patrol’s Stark County post, which received the call at 6:04 p.m. The Greentown Fire Department received a call at 5:55 p.m. for a plane down and possible structure fire, Geiser said.
‘CLOSER AND CLOSER’
Neighbors heard the crash and called 911. Nancy Beisler, who lives across the street, said she was inside when she heard the plane “buzzing” over her home.
“I thought something exploded and (my husband) thought something happened to me,” she said.
“I said, ‘I’m OK’ and he said, ‘Call 911, it’s something across the street,’ ” Beisler said. “… And unfortunately it was all flames.”
“You could tell it was very close and it kept getting closer and closer,” neighbor Christina Pastore-Bucher said. “It buzzed right over the house, and you heard a crash — it was an impact.”
“It had instantly burst into flames.” Noting that fuel may have spilled, Pastore-Bucher said, “the fire was kind of going to both sides.”
Pastore-Bucher is used to hearing planes fly over, but “this one, you knew it was so fast, it was so low.”
Julie Fano said the house at 2017 Charolais St. had been vacant since the spring. She and her husband, Joe, were eating dinner when they heard the plane’s engine cutting in and out.
“I threw my clothes on and ran out, but there wasn’t anything we could do,” Joe Fano said. “You don’t want to get too close because you don’t know if anything else (will) explode.”