Stover, who is the owner of Stover Trucking Company located on U.S. 35 in Henderson, was used to helping stranded motorists along the highway and had been helping Lantz Bricker, 25, of Salem, Ohio, since Sunday after Bricker made an emergency landing in Stover's cornfield after his Piper PA-28-181, also known as a Cherokee, ran low on fuel.
Around 10:15 a.m. Tuesday morning, as he was taking off from the field, the wing on Bricker's plane hit a fence post and electric lines, then crashed on the other side of U.S. 35. He died inside the plane after the accident. Bricker was the only one aboard the plane.
Emergency crews from the Mason County Sheriff's Department, the Mason County Detachment of the West Virginia State Police, Point Pleasant Volunteer Fire Department and Mason County Emergency Medical Services rushed to the scene. Workers with the West Virginia Division of Highways, Mason Garage, also responded for traffic control while emergency crews were working at the scene.
Both lanes of U.S. 35 were closed for about an hour then had opened to one-lane of traffic until investigators with the Federal Aviation Administration from Charleston arrived. Then both lanes shut down while they conducted their investigation. Linemen with Appalachian Electric Power inspected the electric lines. The area did not lose electricity following the accident.
“I had helped him after he ran out of gas,” Stover said. “I gave him some gas and loaned him vehicles to get back and forth.”
They developed a friendship in the short time that Bricker was in West Virginia.
“He was a nice guy,” Stover said of Bricker who had promised Stover an airplane ride when he came back to West Virginia.
Bricker had been flying over Mason County Sunday when the plane ran ow on fuel, Dave Green, aviation safety inspector of flight operations with the FAA's office in Charleston, said. He made an emergency landing in the field.
Green said the preliminary investigation showed that after refueling, Bricker began his takeoff and struck some obstacles along his path, which included a fence post, before coming into contact with the power lines.
“He did not have enough speed to take off and too much speed to stop,” Green said about the accident.
Green said that he will be coordinating the accident investigation with Luke Schiata of the National Transportation Safety Board.
Stover said that Bricker tried to take off Sunday after getting some fuel but could not because the ground was too wet. He let him park the plane on his property until the ground had dried, Stover said.
“This morning I loaned him a pickup truck so he could go and get some aviation fuel over at the Gallia County Airport,” Stover said Tuesday.
When Bricker returned to the plane, he drained the gas from the fuel tank and put the aviation fuel in, Stover said. Then, Bricker prepared the airplane for take off.
“We pulled it out into the field so he could get a better run,” Stover said. “I went and blocked the driveway so no one could get in. The next thing I knew the plane was coming toward me. It banked to the left but he couldn't pull it back out.”
Stover said he heard the plane striking the fence post. Then the plane struck the power pole and lines.
“When the wings hit the power lines, I knew he was in trouble,” he said.
Immediately, Stover called 911, then stayed with his friend at the accident site until help arrived. He said Bricker was still alive when he reached him.
“I would talk to him and he would move his right arm,” Stover said. “I was holding Lantz and the seat back when I saw smoke coming out of the engine compartment.”
Truck drivers who were traveling on U.S. 35 also stopped to give aid with fire extinguishers, he said. Two firefighters then arrived along with a man who had retired from the FAA, who calmed Stover down. They tied the airplane to a tree to keep it from flipping.
He said an off-duty emergency medical technician who also had arrived took Bricker's pulse, then shook his head indicating that he had died. The body was taken to the Medical Examiner's office in Charleston.
It was the first plane crash he had witnessed, and Stover said he does not care to see another one.
“I don't want to go through that again,” he said.
While traffic was stopped on U.S. 35 due to the accident, deputies who were at the scene were called to investigate an accident after a tractor-trailer rear-ended a car.
Ulrich H. Gaertner, 63, of Centerville, Ohio, told Chief Deputy Charlie Stearns that the 2002 International Estes Express Lines truck of Morrisville, N.C., driven by Dwayne Ray Herring, 41, of Huntersville, N.C., had ran into the back of his 2003 Chevrolet.
No injuries were reported by either driver or by their passengers.
Stearns is investigating the accident and had issued Herring a citation for failure to maintain control.