A physician from Arnold was killed yesterday morning when his single-engine airplane crashed in the foggy mountains of southwestern Pennsylvania.
Ralph G. Rindfleisch, who Pennsylvania police said was flying alone, had taken off from the Bay Bridge Airport in Stevensville in an early morning flight, said Federal Aviation Administration spokesman James Peters.
He had been cleared for an instrument-aided approach to the John Murtha Johnstown-Cambria County Airport when the tower there lost contact with him about 8 a.m., Peters said.
Rindfleisch was flying a Grumman AA5B. His flight appeared uneventful as he first was handled by air traffic controllers at the FAA's Washington Center in Virginia, then handed off to controllers in Cleveland, who cleared him for the approach to Johnstown's Runway 33, Peters said. Cleveland then handed the plane over to the Johnstown tower.
"There were three transmissions between the tower in Johnstown and the aircraft, and there was no indication of problems," Peters said, though he emphasized that the information was preliminary and subject to investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board.
The FAA issued an alert about 8 a.m. to pilots flying along the same route that the plane was missing.
A helicopter pilot spotted the wreckage later in the morning in a wooded area along Route 56 near Olgetown, about 75 miles east of Pittsburgh. Heavy fog was reported at the time, said Lt. Col. Edgar R. Flick of the western Pennsylvania Civil Air Patrol.
Police, fire and emergency crews responded to the scene, which is about 15 miles from the airport. Flick said the plane went down in a heavily forested area with both active and reclaimed strip mines.
Though heavy fog is often a problem for local pilots and drivers in that area, Peters said he could not say whether it was a factor in the accident.
"Weather will be a factor looked at by the NTSB," Peters said.
A woman answering the telephone at Rindfleisch's Arnold address declined to comment.
Rindfleisch, whose age was unavailable, trained in emergency medicine at the University of Maryland Medical System and was board-certified in that specialty, according to state records. He worked the 11 p.m.-to-7 a.m. shift at Laurel Regional Hospital.
"We're all completely in a daze," said Barry Shapiro, assistant director of the emergency department at the Laurel hospital. "I don't know how we're even working tonight."
Shapiro said Rindfleisch was a veteran of the first Persian Gulf war and recently traveled to Southeast Asia to do volunteer humanitarian work.
Neighbors described Rindfleisch as a devoted father of four who loved to fly and take his children out in the boat that the family keeps in the neighborhood marina.
"He was wonderful, loved by everybody," said William Morris, a building contractor who lives on Rindfleisch's street. Morris said he regularly went to his neighbor's house for Christmas parties.
Because Rindfleisch was an emergency room doctor, he worked nights and was able to fly during the day, Morris said.
Morris said his neighbor volunteered for about a month each year in a foreign country ministering to medical needs of low-income people.
Rindfleisch had been a jockey, but stopped riding many years ago after his horse stumbled and he nearly suffered serious injuries, Morris said.
"He survived that, and then he went to medical school," Morris said.
Morris added: "He was a wonderful, wonderful person. It will truly be a loss for his family."
Sun staff writer Sara Neufeld and the Associated Press contributed to this report.