TRAPPE -- Three people were killed yesterday when a twin-engine private plane crashed in a Talbot County soybean field about two miles north of the Choptank River, federal authorities said.
The plane took off from Westchester County Airport in New York, heading for Pinehurst, N.C., according to a flight plan filed with the Federal Aviation Administration.
The names of the pilot and passengers were not released, but the plane is registered to Gregory D. Doppke of Greenwich, Conn., an FAA spokesman said.
"Preliminary information indicates that three were on board and there were three fatalities," said Paul Schlamm, a spokesman for the National Transportation Safety Board. "Investigators from our regional office in New Jersey will lead the investigation."
According to the FAA, radar operators at Patuxent River Naval Air Station, who routinely monitor air traffic in the region, lost radar and radio contact with the plane about 9:30 a.m.
Emergency teams in Dorchester and Talbot counties and nearby Coast Guard stations began searching the Choptank before turning their attention to an area two miles north of the river, said Sgt. Arthur Betts, a Maryland State Police spokesman.
"There was no fire involved, but the pilot on board was killed by the impact," said Betts. "The plane is broken up and is in very bad condition. There might have been passengers, but because of the wreckage, it would be hard to tell," he said. Reporters were kept a quarter-mile from the crash site, a soggy field littered with debris.
Lee Carmine, who lives about half a mile away, said he didn't see or hear the crash. A series of violent thunderstorms that crossed the Eastern Shore yesterday morning might have muffled the sound, he said.
"As bad as the weather was, you wonder if that could have maybe made the pilot get disoriented," said Carmine as he peered through binoculars toward the crash site. "If it happened during the worst of the lightning and thunder, I don't think people would have noticed any other noise."
Officials would not say whether weather was a factor in the crash.
The plane, a Piper PA-30 Comanche that seats up to four, is a stalwart among private plane owners and pilots, said Jim Peters, an FAA spokesman. "This plane was built in 1967, but there were no preliminary indications of any problems with the aircraft," Peters said. "As long as you take care of them, they'll last forever."
The owner of the hangar where Doppke has kept his plane, Michael Mason, said Doppke was at the airport yesterday morning preparing for a flight and checking weather reports.
Mason described Doppke as a close friend who was known as "mayor of the breakfast club," a group of pilots who socialize together.
Reporter Hoa Nguyen of the Greenwich (Conn.)Time contributed to this article.