ST. LOUIS — Boy Scouts camping in Missouri's Mark Twain National Forest helped lead searchers to a small plane that crashed in a remote, wooded area, authorities said Monday.
The single-engine Piper Lance had been missing since it disappeared from the radar on March 27. The wreckage was found Friday in the southeast Missouri forest. Madison County Sheriff David Lewis, who was among the first at the wreckage scene, said the pilot and both passengers were ejected and died upon impact.
Madison County Coroner Chris Follis said the pilot was 61-year-old Lyle Anthony Fettig of the Milwaukee area. The passengers were 52-year-old Violet Badagliacco of Palos Hills, Ill., and 55-year-old Eun Young Reneau of Eau Claire, Wis.
Civil Air Patrol deputy operations director John Desmarais said the plane took off in Florida, stopped in Arkansas, then set off for Wisconsin. But soon after crossing into Missouri, the aircraft disappeared.
More than 50 Civil Air Patrol workers and seven aircraft took part in the lengthy search. At first, they searched the area near the Arkansas-Missouri border. But the Mark Twain National Forest covers thousands of square miles in southeast Missouri, making it difficult to spot wreckage. Cold, rainy weather didn't help. The search dragged on.
Late last week, scouts who had been camping at the Marble Creek Campground near Fredericktown arrived back home after a couple of days of camping and heard talk about a missing plane. The scouts told their parents they had been awakened by a low-flying plane. The campground is just a few miles from the crash site.
"Once those reports came in they were combined with the radar track analysis, and they figured out it was along that kind of route," Desmarais said. "They checked that area and found the wreckage."
Civil Air Patrol first spotted the wreckage by air. Lewis said chain saws had to be used to cut through the thick brush and woods before he and other searchers could get to the site.
Lewis said much of the plane had burned. The victims were found on the ground. The cause of the crash has not been determined. The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating. An NTSB investigator did not respond to an interview request.
Fettig's sister, Peggy Dorzok, released a statement that read, in part, "It's hard to know what to say. It's a shock and feels unreal. ... He had so many friends and family waiting and praying for good news."
Desmarais said it is often difficult to find downed planes because pilots don't always follow a regimented flight plan.
"With a search like this you've got to go on the clues you get from the public," he said.