BERKELEY SPRINGS, W. Va. -- Six West Virginia Air National Guard crew members died yesterday morning when their military cargo plane crashed into a hillside house during a training flight near Berkeley Springs.
The lone occupant of the log home -- retired railroad carpenter Milton Barnhart, who was sipping coffee in his kitchen -- escaped from an ensuing blaze with singed hair and eyebrows.
"Dad's very lucky. It's a miracle," said his daughter, Nancy Grove, 43, of Berkeley Springs.
The crash about 10 miles south of the Maryland border at Hancock was the third this year involving the four-engine Lockheed C-130 turbo-prop cargo planes on U.S. military training flights.
An Air Force C-130 plunged into a lake in April on a training mission near Lilesville, N.C., killing all nine people aboard, in a mishap blamed on engine failure. Pilot error was cited in the February crash of a C-130 into an Indiana hotel-restaurant complex that killed 16 people.
The cause of yesterday's crash was not known. Air Force and National Guard investigators expected to work through the night in search of clues. In the remains of the demolished aircraft, they found a device described by West Virginia Air Guard Brig. Gen Jack Koch as similar to a flight recorder.
The bodies of all six Guard crew members were recovered. General Koch said an earlier report that one of them had jumped pTC from the plane was untrue. Names of the victims were not released pending notification of relatives.
The plane, which witnesses said was burning in the air, crashed into the home of 77-year-old Mr. Barnhart, a retired Baltimore & Ohio railroad carpenter, about 9:30 a.m. The C-130E Hercules came to rest in a junkyard about 100 yards behind Mr. Barnhart's 150-year-old log home.
No one else on the ground was injured, although the impact and explosions shook the area.
Judy Youngblood, 30, who lives across the street, was home with her 5-year-old son, Kyle, when the plane crashed. "The lights flickered and then bang, the house was shaking very hard," she said.
Mrs. Youngblood said she stayed inside and called the fire department. "I stayed here because it kept exploding," she said.
The home where Mr. Barnhart had lived for half a century and where his five children were born was destroyed. Ms. Grove said she did not know whether it was insured.
"My life's earnings are right there," Mr. Barnhart said, standing across the street from the ruins.
Relatives said one of his three dogs perished in the accident, his cat was missing, and nearly all his possessions -- including a large gun collection -- were consumed by the flames.
Witnesses said the plane was on fire when it flew over Pious Ridge, a line of hills east of Fairview Ridge where the crash occurred.
One man, who did not want to be named, said he saw the plane dragging a cable as it came over Pious Ridge. The cable was snapping the tops off trees, he said.
Phillip Spriggs, 63, who lives nearby, said he saw the plane go by his bedroom window. He said he heard a sputtering sound and saw "a big fireball" about 75 yards across.
Air National Guard planes regularly fly low over the neighborhood, said Mr. Spriggs, a retired Fort Meade employee.
The planes "scare the hell out of us," said his wife, Anne Spriggs.
The crew -- on "a local proficiency training flight" -- had been in the air less than an hour, General Koch said.
The 167th Tactical Airlift Group crew had been practicing takeoffs and landings at its Martinsburg airport base.
The crew of the C-130 that crashed Feb. 5 into a motel-restaurant complex in Evansville, Ind., was on a similar mission at the time. The dead included 11 civilians on the ground.