Federal investigators are looking into what caused a glider to crash into a mountain near the resort town of Stowe, Vermont.
The crash killed a pilot based at the local airport and his two passengers, who were travelers from Connecticut.
The glider piloted by 70-year-old Don Post of Stowe crashed Wednesday deep in the woods on Sterling Mountain in Morristown, Vermont State Police said.
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Vermont State Police identified the travelers as 56-year-old Suzanne Moroz and 58-year-old Frank Moroz III, from Hamden, Connecticut.
The tour company Stowe Soaring stayed closed Thursday, as teams with specialized training in back-country rescues worked all day to retrieve the victims’ bodies, in tough conditions.
“We live in Vermont—it’s mountains, hills, thick forests,” said Capt. Robert Cushing of Vermont State Police. “It’s a difficult terrain for sure.”
According to investigators, the sightseeing trip was expected to take roughly a half hour. After about 45 minutes without seeing the glider return, people back at the airport started getting concerned. Then after an hour, a plane went in search of the glider and spotted the crash site, according to preliminary reports.
A friend of Don Post’s brought a rose by the Morrisville-Stowe Airport Thursday after learning of his death. She described him as being vibrant, eager to help others, active in the community, and a pleasure to be around.
Peter Christie of Morristown said he has flown gliders before, out of the same airport.
“It’s stunning,” Christie said of the experience of soaring over the mountains and valleys in the area. “It’s very quiet.”
The aircraft don’t have engines of their own and are towed into the sky by a plane.
After disconnecting, the pilot rides waves of air, relying on updrafts as a sailboat would rely on gusts on wind on the water.
“You’re totally dependent on the winds and knowing where they are, and being able to pick them up properly,” Christie said.
The Morristown Police Department said the crash appears to have been an accident.
The National Transportation Safety Board is heading up the investigation into what went wrong during the trip.
Brian Rayner of the NTSB said that gliders such as the one involved in this crash are generally not equipped with pilot recording devices.
“This particular airframe has no electronics on it whatsoever,” Rayner said. “In fact, it’s my understanding they use handheld radio for communication.”
Rayner said he plans to hike to the crash site Friday to inspect the wreckage, noting that the full report on the crash could take a year.
Autopsies are expected to be performed on the victims Friday. Something examiners are sure to be looking for is whether the pilot might have suffered a medical emergency before the crash.