MOOREFIELD, W.Va. (AP) — Three Pennsylvania residents who were on board a plane that crashed in eastern West Virginia are dead, officials said Friday.

An observer with the West Virginia Civil Air Patrol spotted the plane in a mountainous area of Hardy County while flying with a State Police helicopter pilot Thursday night, said air patrol spokesman Jeff Schrock.

Ground search teams then reached the crash site and confirmed the fatalities, said Paul Lewis, Hardy County emergency management director. A state medical examiner was at the scene, and Lewis said officials with the National Transportation Safety Board were expected before noon Friday.

The Piper PA-32 Saratoga went missing Sunday night as it was heading to Johnstown, Pa.

It dropped out of radio and radar contact in bad weather about 12 miles southeast of the Grant County Airport in Petersburg.

Family members have identified those on board as pilot Michael Garrone of Allegheny Township, Pa., 52-year-old Chas Armitage Jr. of Parks Township, Pa., and his girlfriend, 49-year-old Laura Stettmier.

Garrone’s cousin, Robbie Dyett Hefflin of Terrell, Texas, said the pilot’s sister told the rest of the family that all three died on impact. David Garrone, the pilot’s brother, helped with the search, which lasted four days in the rugged, remote mountains of Hardy, Grant and Pendleton counties.

Hefflin took comfort in knowing all the victims had been found so they can be returned to their families for goodbyes. Of her cousin, she added, “I know his spirit can fly and have peace in knowing that this one man died doing something he truly loved.”

The group was returning to Pennsylvania after a weekend trip to Myrtle Beach, S.C.

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


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