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Report: Pilot Contacted Bradley Minutes Before Fatal Canton Plane Crash

National Transportation Board releases preliminary findings on crash that killed Donald J. and Josephine DeRocher.

Donald J. DeRocher last contacted Bradley International Airport approximately 3 minutes before his plane crashed atop Onion Mountain in Canton the night of Nov. 19, killing he and his wife Josephine, according to a preliminary report issued by the National Transportation Board.

The couple, who were in their mid 70s, had ties to Canton and lived in Tolland and Windsor Locks before moving to Florida, according to family members. They were on the way to the state for the funeral of Mr. DeRocher’s father.

Mr. DeRocher was a licensed private pilot, who in April 2011 reported 960 hours of flight time, according to the report.

No flight plan was filed but the couple departed in their Piper PA-28-180, N8826J from Heritage Field Airport in Pottstown, Pennsylvania, left from and was headed to Simsbury Airport, according to the preliminary report, which states it is subject to change and could contain errors.

"We are in the preliminary stages of the investigation," Jay Neylon, Air Safety Investigator with the National Transportation Safety Board, wrote in an e-mail to Patch. "At this time we are collecting the facts, conditions, and circumstances surrounding the accident." 

The report states that Donald DeRocher contacted Bradley International Airport at 6:10 p.m., and was 30 miles west of Bradley and flying at 2,500 feet. Four minutes later he again contacted personnel at Bradley, who told him to let them know when he had sight of Simsbury Airport, the report states.

At 6:22 p.m., Donald DeRocher’s last contact with Bradley, “acknowledged a previous traffic advisory was no longer a factor” and his plane veered off the radar screen approximately one minute later at 900 feet mean sea level, the report states.

The top of Onion Mountain, according to trails.com, is 856 feet in height.

The plane crashed into trees on top of the ridge at approximately 6:25 p.m., according to the report, and left a path of fragments approximately 75 feet in length, although the engine did not come off the fuselage.

Canton Police said they were notified of the potential crash around 8 p.m. that night. Emergency crews from Simsbury and Canton responded, assisted by a spotlight from a state police helicopter. Members of the town of Canton Volunteer Fire and EMS Department located and recovered the bodies, working well into the next day.

The bodies were transported to the Chief Medical Examiner’s Office and a representative there so accidental, multiple blunt trauma was listed as the cause of death.

Neylon said a facts paper on the accident would likely be released in six months and a probable cause in about a year.

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