MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) — A small plane that went missing Sunday night along the Virginia-West Virginia border could be anywhere in the rugged mountains between Frostburg, Md., and Brandywine, Va., a West Virginia Civil Air Patrol spokesman said Wednesday.

That’s an area of more than 1,000 square miles, spokesman Jeff Schrock said, but search efforts remain concentrated in Grant and Hardy counties in eastern West Virginia.

Five ground teams focused on the South Fork of the South Branch River near Moorefield, he said, while good weather Wednesday afternoon allowed six aircraft to join the search.

The pilot of the Piper PA-32 Saratoga was flying two passengers to Johnstown, Pa., when air traffic controllers lost contact. Its last known position was 12 miles south of the Grant County Airport in Petersburg.

Schrock said one search team is flying the route the missing plane would have taken from its last known location back to Pennsylvania, and flying along the Potomac river. The other aircraft are doing grid searches of the region.

Several days of rain, fog and cloud cover had hindered air-search efforts, but the weather has improved significantly.

Still, Schrock said, the trees remain covered with leaves, so crews may not be able to see much.

The people on board the missing plane include pilot Michael Garrone of Allegheny Township, Pa., and 52-year-old Chas Armitage Jr. of Parks Township, Pa.

The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review identified the third person as the girlfriend of Armitage, 49-year-old Laura Stettmier, and said the group was returning to Pennsylvania after a weekend trip to Myrtle Beach, S.C.

Schrock said local searches will be conducted throughout the target area as leads, tips and clues are found. So far, ground crews have had neither sightings of the small aircraft nor a signal from its emergency transmitter.

“I know it is frustrating for the family because we’re almost three days into this and we still haven’t found any outcome,” he said. “We’ve had some challenges, obviously.”

However, the pilot’s wife, Kathy, is still “very optimistic” and other relatives and friends of the missing people are helping with the search, he said.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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