NTSB issues report on plane crash that killed 3 Kiski Valley residents

Chuck Biedka
| Friday, May 17, 2013, 11:30 a.m.

The National Transportation Safety Board has issued a second report in an airplane crash that killed three Kiski Valley residents in 2011, but the cause may not be identified for at least several months.

The accident killed the pilot, Michael Fiori Garrone, 52, a contractor from Allegheny Township, and his friends Charles “Chas” Armitage Jr., 52, and Laura Stettmier, 49, both of Parks Township.

Armitage was president of Parks Township-based Uncle Charley's Sausage. Stettmier was co-owner of the now-closed Addison House Restaurant & Lounge in Leechburg.

The latest report states Garrone was flying his single-engine Piper airplane from Danville, Va., to an airport in Johnstown on Oct. 2, 2011, when he encountered rain and wind over West Virginia, about 140 miles south of Johnstown.

Garrone, his wife, Kathy, Armitage and Stettmier were coming back from a golf outing in Myrtle Beach when Garrone landed the plane at Danville so Kathy Garrone could deplane to attend to family business.

The Piper was back in the air just before sunset. Records show Garrone had some experience flying at night in reasonable weather.According to the report, Garrone told a flight controller in Leesburg, Va., at about 8:40 p.m. he was flying by sight, but the weather was ruling that out.

He told a controller, “We're gonna try reversing course.”

When asked by the controller whether he wanted to file an instrument flight plan, Garrone said no and reiterated he was turning around to head back to Danville.

The NTSB said Garrone didn't have an instrument rating, which means he was not certified to fly by using the plane's instruments alone.

The report said Garrone changed radio frequencies for a brief time to check on the weather, and then he was back on the controller frequency when the controller stated, “OK, looks like you're going back opposite direction.”

At about that time, the controller identified an alternative airport about 10 miles from where Garrone was flying. Garrone replied that he didn't want to do that.

He added that he couldn't find flight charts inside the cockpit because “I'm getting bounced around pretty good,” the report states.

According to the report, Garrone switched his radio frequency again to check the weather and the airplane started flying erratically.

At 8:40 p.m., the airplane entered a gradual left turn.

Within seconds, “the turn tightened and the airplane entered a steep, left spiral dive, losing 700 feet in 12 seconds,” according to the report.

The plane was heading west and disappeared from radar for about 30 seconds, but again appeared on radar. This time, it was at a higher altitude and was flying southeast, the report states.

About 12 seconds later, the plane started to make a tight, left turn.

According to the report, the pilot told the controller he was back on the controller's radio frequency. The airplane “briefly stabilized on a northerly heading” at a height of 4,900 feet.

Then just after 8:42 p.m., “as the pilot made his final transmission, the airplane disappeared from the radar for the last time,” the report said.Searchers discovered the plane's wreckage four days later on a steep hillside.

The plane was inverted in the mountainous, wooded terrain.

The NTSB said Garrone held a private pilot's certificate with single-engine rating over land. He was licensed as a command pilot of a high-performance airplane.

His previous flight log entry prior to the crash was on Sept. 24, 2011, about a week before.

At that time, he had 110.5 hours of flight experience, including a little more than 40 hours in the make and model of the airplane in the crash.

He also had almost eight hours of nighttime flying experience, including three hours with a flight instructor.

NTSB spokesman Keith Holloway said on Friday that a final report, which could include a cause of the crash, won't be completed for several months.

Chuck Biedka is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at cbiedka@tribweb.com or 724-226-4711.

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