Air traffic controllers lost contact with the pilot at 8 p.m.; plane overshot destination and flew on across Ohio to West Virginia.
(Updated with Star-Herald Weekender article.)
The incapacitated pilot of a single-engine airplane died when the aircraft apparently ran out of fuel and crashed in a fireball on a ridge line above Skull Run Road Thursday night.
The Cirrus SR-22 aircraft crashed north of Ravenswood around 9:45 p.m. and calls began to come into the Jackson County 9-1-1 Center by area residents who heard the aircraft and the explosion and saw a fireball in the woods above the rural roadway about four miles from Route 68.
False rumors ran rampant including that the aircraft was a military jet fighter with missiles aboard and parachutes were seen descending and even a passenger jetliner with 128 passengers aboard.
In actuality, the small, single-engine plane reportedly registered to Sequoia Airways LLC out of Avon, IN, originally took off from York, Nebraska, at 6:45 p.m. headed for Eagle Creek, Indiana.
Air traffic controllers commenting in the Airliners.net aviation forums reported that the pilot had requested a lower altitude and seemed “very out of it and just not normal.” The pilot reportedly did not make the descent to the lower altitude as requested. It is believed he may have become incapacitated from hypoxia.
Air traffic controllers lost contact with the pilot around 8 p.m., but the plane continued flying past its intended destination in a flight path across Ohio that carried it to Jackson County. (Note: Earlier reports that the plane was headed to Manassas, VA, resulted from a destination setting change in the tracking system after the plane passed its intended destination)
Military F16s were reportedly scrambled to investigate the aircraft. It lost altitude and fell off of radar just north of Ravenswood when it is believed it ran out of fuel.
Eyewitnesses on Skull Run said they saw a parachute in the trees at the crash site on the heavily wooded ridgeline and small debris scattered over a large area with several trees torn up.
The SR-22 is equipped with a built-in parachute that can lower the entire aircraft to the ground safely in the event of an emergency, but it apparently deployed too late or was blow out in the explosion that disintegrated the plane.
Jackson County Sheriff’s Deputies and West Virginia State Police Troopers from the Ripley detachment arrived with EMS units, an explosives response team and 9-1-1 director Walter Smittle. A 200-yard perimeter around the crash site as set as a precaution, because the plane’s parachute contains an explosive charge that could go off if improperly handed.
The pilot’s body was recovered at the scene, but his identity had not been released as of press time.
Investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board arrived in Jackson County late Friday morning, and State Police Troopers were continuing to maintain the perimeter around the crash site.