Roanoke, VA Airplane Crash, Mar 2010

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Pilot dies in fiery Roanoke airplane crash
Two men initially survived crash into UPS Freight building

Tuesday March 30, 2010

A small plane with two people on board crashed into the side of the UPS Freight building near the Roanoke Regional Airport on Tuesday.
The pilot of a small plane that crashed today near Roanoke Regional Airport died and the passenger was seriously hurt.

Peter Sheeran, an architect who was piloting the plane, died after the 12:53 p.m. crash, said Allie Buth, spokeswoman for Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital. The passenger, John Whitmer, was in serious condition. Both men are from Charlottesville.

Sheeran, 57, is listed in Virginia State Corporation records as the only officer of Aviation Development Group Inc, the owner of the single-engine 1985 Piper PA-46 [photo] that crashed. Sheeran's architecture firm and Aviation Development Group Inc. have the same Charlottesville address on High Street. Sheeran is also a licensed pilot, according to Federal Aviation Administration records. FAA records do not list Whitmer as a pilot.

The plane wobbled in today's stiff wind, hit utility wires and crashed into the side of the UPS Freight building on the north side of Peters Creek Road before bursting into flames, witnesses said. The crash, at 12:53 p.m., happened while the plane was taking off from the airport, the airport said in a statement. The pilot called the air traffic control tower for emergency assistance, the statement said.

The plane departed from Charlottesville at 9:01 a.m. Tuesday and arrived in Roanoke at 9:30 a.m., according to flightaware.com, an online flight tracking service. The Web site showed no departure data for the plane.

Witnesses reported seeing the craft, a single-engine, five-passenger plane, wobble in the wind as it crossed Peters Creek Road headed north.

Brian Turner, 35, of Roanoke County, saw the plane about 50-feet off the ground as it crossed over him on Peters Creek, its right wing dipping hard before it clipped utility lines. The plane hit a grassy bank and cartwheeled two or three times before hitting the UPS freight building.

Turner, who works at nearby DirectTV, was still somewhat dazed as he recounted running up to the plane, which was already in flames. As he approached, Turner said, the passenger was getting out.

"He was just in a state of shock and said the pilot was still in the plane," Turner said. He helped the passenger get a safe distance away and tried to help the pilot.

"I just kept trying to get closer and closer to it, but the heat and smoke was burning my throat," Turner said.

The passenger was conscious but bloodied, with a wound on the back of his head, reported Turner and another witness, Frank Rosati, 20, of Roanoke County.

Rosati said the passenger told him, "I got the door open and heard the fuel ignite and just got out."

Sgt. Robert Carpentieri of the state police said no one on the ground was injured in the crash.

The pilot had to be extricated from the plane by Roanoke, Roanoke County and airport firefighters, who were on the scene within three minutes, said Carpentieri and Fire Chief Rick Burch.

Power has been restored to most of the 2,700 Appalachian Power Co. customers who lost electricity after a plane crash today, spokesman John Shepelwich said. About 180 customers are still without power, but many of them are expected to be back online by 4:30 p.m.

Roanoke County's Green Ridge Recreation Center and the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles Roanoke Customer Service Center both closed for the day after losing power.

Officials did not know where the plane was headed, but Aubrey Lawhorne, who has lived about 14 years in the Circle T Trailer Court next to the airport and across Peters Creek Road from the UPS terminal, said the engine just didn’t sound right as it passed overhead.

"It had a knocking sound in it," he said.

"Then you hear a big bang in the parking lot over there," Lawhorne said. The crash knocked out electricity to his neighborhood. He said that from his window, he had a brief view of the plane lying in the UPS lot, then it burst into flames.

"It laid there about 30 seconds, then it blowed up," he said.