The three Virginia men who perished in a private plane crash in Fayette County on Sunday were headed back from a whitewater rafting trip, according to a social media post made by the sister of one of the victims.
West Virginia State Police on Sunday evening identified the victims as Nick Fletcher, 38, Michael Taphouse, 36, and Wesley Farley, 39, all of the Chesapeake, Va., area, but federal investigators said Monday that it could take months to discover the cause of the deadly crash.
Investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) were at the crash site on Monday.
The plane, a single-engine Beechcraft C23, was departing New River Airport, a private airport that is on a 650-acre housing development at Lansing, NTSB Public Information Officer Keith Hollaway said Monday.
Brian Rayner, an air safety investigator with the NTSB, said Monday morning that the NTSB and the FAA are in the initial stages of the investigation.
"Immediately, after takeoff, the airplane was seen to make a steep left-banking turn and then descend into trees," Rayner said.
Troopers J.J. Stewart and A.E. Roberts had investigated the initial report of the crash at Lansing around 10:09 a.m. Sunday.
The officers discovered the victims and the crashed plane behind a barn on private property on Opossum Creek Road in Lansing. They then notified the FAA and the NTSB, both federal agencies, of the crash.
The NTSB is leading the investigation.
Stewart and Roberts had also identified the victims on Sunday and notified Chesapeake, Va., authorities so that the victims' families could be notified, said Stewart.
Fletcher and Taphouse had a family connection, according to a post made by Fletcher's sister, while Farley was a friend.
An FAA public information officer had initially reported on Sunday that the plane was leaving Fayette Airport in Fayetteville, a private airport that is closer to Nickelville Road.
Prior to the release of the FAA statement on Sunday, a private pilot in Raleigh County had told The Register-Herald that the plane had been departing New River Airport. The pilot reported that the landing strip at New River Airport, which is also called The Landings @ Wild Rock, is shorter than average, and there is also thick foliage on the land surrounding the landing strip.
New River Airport is available to residents of the community and to others who have permission to use it, property owners reported.
Rayner said the investigation will branch out and will include assessment of the pilot's qualifications and his total, and more recent, flying experience, as well as maintenance history of the craft and factors such as weather or air traffic considerations.
"If we don't come across anything unusual, I anticipate being done within about a year," Rayner said. "With three fatalities, you're talking three different families, their extended families, their friends, their neighbors, their colleagues.
"It ripples out a great distance," he added. "So, certainly, it's a tragedy, and we treat them as such.
"We will do our very best, and I do have the best in the world assisting me, so I'm confident, there are no guarantees, but I'm confident we'll be able to explain this tragedy to those affected by it."
Two FAA inspectors were at the crash site on Monday while a third worked off site.
Experts from the airplane manufacturer and the engine manufacturer are also aiding the data-gathering process, and a removal company will assist during the investigation phase, Raynor reported.