Smoke led searchers to wreckage of plane

Vermont State Police recovery teams prepare to head up Bald Mountain on Monday morning.

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This story was updated on June 14, 2018, to correct the spelling of the victim's name.

WOODFORD — Smoke from a fire that had burned out led searchers to the wreckage of a twin-engine aircraft on Bald Mountain early Monday morning, where they discovered that the crash had resulted in "catastrophic and immediate destruction of the aircraft," the rescue coordinator for the Vermont Department of Public Safety said Tuesday.

Neil Van Dyke got a call from the national Air Force Rescue Coordination Center at about 6 p.m. Sunday, he said.

That call began an hours-long effort to find a Piper PA-34 Seneca plane that had disappeared from radar on its way to Waterbury-Oxford Airport in Oxford, Conn. from Burlington International Airport.

The Piper, a twin-engine propeller plane, didn't have an emergency locator transmitter, said Van Dyke.

The Vermont Civil Air Patrol, an all-volunteer U.S. Air Force auxiliary, flew to the last known position of the plane.

But it couldn't be located.

They continued with a visual airborne search, until weather conditions forced the aircrew to return to Rutland, according to a release issued by the air patrol Tuesday afternoon.

At the same time the air patrol was being mobilized, so were resources on the ground.

Two teams of Vermont game wardens and state police search and rescue team members were sent to look for the plane.

Local personnel were also contacted.

But it was soon determined that the local response might have been looking for the plane in the wrong area.

"So we had everybody get together at the middle school in Bennington, to sort of come up with a joint plan," Van Dyke said. "It works best if we're all kind of looking at the same sheet of music."

By then, it was about 8 p.m.

The plane had gone down between about 2 and 3 p.m, Van Dyke said.

Van Dyke got to sleep for a couple of hours. In the meantime, it was decided those best prepared to go into the wilderness were state police search and rescue team members and Vermont game wardens — five people in total.

They found the plane at about 1 a.m., in the vicinity of where it went off radar, just to the east of the summit of Bald Mountain, Van Dyke said.

The pilot and sole occupant was dead. It was the third fatal plane crash in Bennington County since August 2006.

The pilot was identified by Vermont state police as Ramsey Samson Kalani Ah Nee, 31, of Manchester, Conn.

"They actually smelled the smoke, and some burning material," said Van Dyke of how searchers found the scene of the crash. "That's really what led them."

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Evidently, there was a fire associated with the crash that had burned out, he said.

"The plane was clearly severely damaged," said Van Dyke. "It looked like it took a pretty straight shot right into some large trees."

The crash resulted in "catastrophic and immediate destruction of the aircraft," he said.

The crew that found the plane stayed with it overnight, securing the scene. They also confirmed that the pilot was dead.

State police detectives, a medical examiner and a crew from Rescue Inc., an emergency medical services provider based in Brattleboro and West Townshend, arrived at the scene at about 10 a.m.

The official request to Rescue Inc. to extricate the body of the pilot came at about 6 a.m. Monday morning.

Drew Hazelton, chief of operations for Rescue Inc., had been out on a search the night before as part of his volunteer search and rescue work for the organization.

That person was found safe.

Hazelton and the seven other crew members hiked about three miles into the woods Monday morning to collect the body. Most of the time, they were on established trail, walking in the day's balmy weather.

The rest of the time, they could follow ribbon markers put up for them by members of state police search and rescue.

"It was definitely a team effort, " Hazelton said, referring to the markers.

The missing person call finished up at about 11 p.m. Sunday night. Hazelton's group mobilized just before 8 a.m. Monday.

"That's the world of emergency response," he said. "Long nights and early mornings."

But his team doesn't mind.

"This is what they like to do," he said of the all-volunteer crew. "They're all about getting out and helping folks and doing their part. Bringing the body back for closure for the families is part of what we do."

The body was removed from the scene at about 1:30 p.m. Monday, said Adam Silverman, public information officer for the Vermont State Police.

It was taken to the office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Burlington for autopsy.

Patricia LeBoeuf can be reached at pleboeuf@berkshireeagle.com, at @BE_pleboeuf on Twitter and 802-447-7567 ext. 118


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