Pennsylvania Plane Crash Claims Lives of Pilot, Physician

A charter plane crash in Pennsylvania tragically claimed the lives of a pilot and his passenger, a physician, on June 16, 2016.

Pilot Gary Orner, 60, of White Oak, and Dr. Robert Arffa, an eye surgeon, had boarded a Piper Navajo plane around 8 a.m. at Washington County Airport in Washington, Pa. The plane was scheduled to land at University Park Airport, roughly 200 miles northeast, but crashed in a wooded area as it approached its target less than an hour into its flight. 

A preliminary report released by the National Transportation Safety Board stated that the two-engine plane, model PA-31-325, had been in touch with air traffic controllers leading up to the crash. Officials had advised the plane at 8:24 a.m. that radar services were terminated, instructing the pilot to change radio frequencies and contact UNV’s air traffic control tower, the report said. The pilot responded moments later, alerting the tower that he was “…with you on the approach.” 

The brief communication was the tower’s last with the plane despite multiple attempts from ATC that went unanswered, the report stated. 

Officials reported seeing smoke in a nearby wood line roughly a mile northeast of the airport, according to the NTSB. Crews responded to the site and discovered the wreckage. Both Orner and Arffa died at the scene. 

Orner was a certified airline transport pilot with allowances to fly single engine, multiengine and instrument aircraft. He held 12,400 hours of flight experience. The plane he piloted at the time of his death was manufactured in 1980 and was last inspected on February 19, 2016, the NTSB reported.

The crash’s cause remains under investigation. 

The tragic circumstances bear similarity to another plane crash that occurred March 30, 2011 in Greensboro, N.C. In that crash, which was litigated by Motley Rice, both pilot and passenger were killed when a Beech 58 twin-engine charter plane that was operated by Jet Logistics crashed into trees, impacting the ground and coming to rest in a home in a residential neighborhood in a failed attempt to land at Piedmont Triad International Airport.

The NTSB probable cause report concluded that the pilot of that plane had become disoriented as she approached the airport and misjudged her altitude. Air traffic controllers had advised her to climb to 4,000 feet from a then-reported 1,500 and she acknowledged receiving their message, according to the NTSB. The transmission was the plane’s last, as it crashed soon afterward. 

While investigating this case, a team of aviation attorneys with Motley Rice, including Mary Schiavo and Jim Brauchle, along with a hand-selected team of technical experts, examined a number of factors that seemingly contributed to the crash, such as reported low ceilings and visibility, the pilot’s missed approach at landing, and the charter operator’s training history and safety culture. The firm also investigated the role and effectiveness of third-party aviation auditing companies. Those, and other factors, too, should be examined in the Pennsylvania incident.