WEYERS CAVE, Va. A small aircraft collided with a medical helicopter in the air Friday afternoon in rural western Virginia, killing two people on the plane, federal aviation officials said.
Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Jim Peters said the collision occurred at about 2:30 p.m., a half-mile north of the Shenandoah Valley Regional Airport in Weyers Cave. The airport is about 30 miles northwest of Charlottesville.
The two people killed were aboard a Cessna 172 plane. Corinne Geller, a spokeswoman for the Virginia State Police, said the names of the victims likely will be released Saturday after a positive identification by the medical examiner.
Peters said the 2005 Eurocopter, with three people aboard, was damaged but landed safely. He said the persons on the helicopter walked away. Geller identified those on the helicopter as pilot Paul Weve, co-pilot and flight nurse Joseph Root and flight nurse Carolyn Booke. She did not have their ages and hometowns.
Geller said the helicopter had just dropped off a patient at the University of Virginia Medical Center and was returning to the airport when the accident occurred. The destination of the Cessna was not immediately available.
Peters said it appeared the helicopter was attempting to land and the 1967 Cessna was taking off when they collided. He described the airplane as a small, general aviation four-seater. According to weather observers, conditions were clear with light winds in the area around the time of the accident.
Witness Joshua Becker told the Daily News Leader of Staunton that he was driving to visit family near the airport when he saw the plane graze the top of the helicopter. The plane immediately nose-dived into the ground, while the helicopter landed in the field. Ronald Ritchie, who lives near the airport, told The Associated Press he walked toward the scene after hearing fire trucks go by his house. Though police roped off the accident scene, Ritchie said he saw the small plane on the ground in a gully among a group of trees.
The Cessna's registered owner is Michael W. Price of Elkton, Va., Peters said. Geller said Price was not one of the people on the plane. A call to the home of the plane's owner went unanswered Friday evening. The helicopter is owned by PHI Inc. of Lafayette, La. PHI spokesman Brad Deutser said the helicopter is based at the Weyers Cave airport and is used to transport patients to hospitals throughout the Shenandoah Valley.
Geller said National Transportation Safety Board investigators were on the scene Friday night.