Victims of Akron plane crash identified

By Allie Johnson, Emily Mills and Alexa Maslowski

The Summit County Medical Examiner released the names of the seven passengers who died in Tuesday’s plane crash in Akron.

The victims were: Gary Shapiro, 35, Thomas Virgin 31, Jared Weiner, 35, and Nick Weaver, 34, all of Boca Raton, Florida; Diane Smoot, 50, and Ori Rom, 32, of Delray Beach, Florida; and Diana Suriel, 32, of Wellington, Florida, all of whom were employees at Pebb Enterprises, a real estate company in Boca Raton, Florida.

Officials have not released the names of the pilot and co-pilot. All nine people onboard were killed, but no one on the ground was injured.

Bella Dinh-Zarr, vice chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, announced Thursday afternoon the agency is analyzing the cockpit voice recorder tape found in the wreckage to determine what happened when the plane went down.

Dinh-Zarr said the pilots discussed the cloudy weather before the sound of impact can be heard on the recorder. She also said the pilots were certified with the Federal Aviation Administration’s highest airline transport rating and had over 10,000 hours in combined experience.

The plane’s two engines have been sent to the manufacturer, Honeywell, to be checked for defects.

The twin-jet charter plane left Dayton-Wright Brothers Airport and planned to land at Akron-Fulton International Airport, but crashed just under 3 miles away into an apartment building at 3041 Mogadore Rd.

Ohio State Highway Patrol Lt. Bill Haymaker said the crash occurred at 2:53 p.m. Tuesday afternoon. According to the National Weather Service, the visibility at the time of the crash was 1.5 miles, the lowest visibility that day.

Dinh-Zarr and Jim Silliman, investigator-in-charge for the accident, said they will not release an official cause of the crash until they finish the investigation. Dinh-Zarr said they looking into several factors, including flight controls, engines, records, weather, air traffic control and operations.

The plane left Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, around 6:30 a.m. on Monday for a flight to Minneapolis. The plane then flew to Moline, Illinois, before heading to St. Louis. The plane arrived in Cincinnati  at 7:40 p.m.

All passengers and pilots stayed overnight in Cincinnati before leaving at 10 a.m. for Dayton. The plane departed Dayton late Tuesday afternoon for Akron-Fulton International Airport before crashing just before 3 p.m. in Akron.

The left wing hit the ground first and left a witness mark where the wing first made contact with ground, Dinh-Zarr said. The aircraft then hit half of an apartment building, destroying it before running up an embankment behind the building, coming to rest.

The plane destroyed one four-family apartment complex while damaging the buildings on the right and left of the crash site, also four-family apartment buildings. Haymaker said 12 families have been affected by the crash. No one was injured on the ground.

“Eleven of those families have reached out to the Red Cross,” Haymaker said. “The Red Cross is helping assist with those families, whether it’s food, clothing and giving them the opportunity to put them up somewhere else here locally until they can get back into their homes.”

Sierjie Lash, the public information officer for the Akron Fire Department, said the building struck by the plane was destroyed and nearby buildings sustained only minor damage.

“There were some folks in the homes nearby, but we did have to get them out and make sure they were safe,” Lash said. “The home where the plane made contact with is a total loss. They will allow them after the scene is stabilized to return to the home if anything is salvageable, but that is going to take a couple of days.”

Christian Bobrowicz, who works for Professional Grinding Inc., a machine shop on Mogadore Road, said he and his co-workers heard a plane approaching, which he said happens often, so they didn’t think anything of it at first.

“It kept getting louder and louder, and we thought, ‘OK, that doesn’t seem normal,’” he said. “A substantial bang shook the building pretty hard…We ran out of the front of the building and started heading up the street…It was nothing but a ball of flame, and we thought we could help somebody, but it was pretty obvious that whatever had happened here was pretty final.”

Bobrowicz said they approached the crash site, where flames engulfed the apartment building.

“We got up as far as we could and took a look around, and that fire was pouring out of there,” he said. “You could hear things in the building starting to pop off. Things were boiling and smashing, and when the firefighters were out there, things just kept exploding behind them — not large explosions, but like car batteries were popping and things of that nature. It was a pretty surreal experience.”

Pebb Enterprises’ website features a short message about the crash:

“Our hearts are broken this morning with the news of the tragic accident that took the lives of two principals and five employees of Pebb Enterprises. We are shocked and deeply saddened for the families, colleagues and friends of those who perished. Our first priority is to give our fullest support to the family members and loved ones of our co-workers. We ask for the media’s understanding and cooperation at this time of unimaginable loss and mourning and are not responding to media requests at this time.”

The website also includes a link to a GoFundMe for the victims’ families.

The plane, a Hawker 125-700A, is owned by Ft. Lauderdale, Florida-based ExecuFlight.

“On behalf of the entire NTSB, I’d like to offer our sincerest condolences to the family and friends of the victims of this tragic accident,” Dinh-Zarr said. “Our thoughts are with them during this difficult time. We’d also like to extend our thanks to the local authorities and first responders for all of the assistance that they’ve provided the community and to us.”

Vice Chairman of NTSB Bella Dinh-Zarr speaks at a press conference near the crash site on Nov. 11, 2015.
Vice Chairman of NTSB Bella Dinh-Zarr speaks at a press conference near the crash site on Nov. 11, 2015.

The NTSB reports a pilot successfully landed a plane right before the plane crashed in Akron. Akron-Fulton International Airport does not have a control tower, so all pilots on approach are controlled by Akron-Canton Airport.

“There were no communications to the tower,” Silliman said. “The pilot that landed the previous aircraft was on the same frequency and they stated they did not hear any distress calls.”

Security footage captured by a nearby business shows the plane flying at a low altitude and banking to the left. Investigators will look at the charter aircraft’s maintenance records, any modifications that were made to how many passengers it could hold and when it was built.