6 Chicagoans killed in plane crash

February 2, 2009 6:12:15 AM PST
A plane crash in West Virginia has killed six people. The victims were all from Chicago and members of a Polish flying club. Those who died were mourned Sunday during a Polish language mass.

The two-engine Piper PA 34 plane crashed on Friday in Kenova, West Virginia, which is just south of the Ohio River and near the borders with Ohio and Kentucky.

As friends and family mourned the loss of the six on board that craft, investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) were still gathering evidence to try to determine why the plane went down. Federal officials say it appears the small plane struggled to stay on course in snowy weather before the pilot reported being low on fuel then crashed.

Some members of the American Polish Aero Club filed into Sunday mass seeking comfort after several in their group perished in the weekend air accident.

"I can't describe [it]. They were were my dear friends. We [flew] together for so long. They died. I just can't believe it," said Maryla Hawekotte, a club member.

A special prayer was offered in hopes of giving some solace to those dealing with the unexpected loss. In all, four club members and two others were lost in the Friday afternoon trip after the group flew to West Virginia looking to buy a new plane for towing gliders.

Federal investigators say they were traveling when the pilot and owner, Wesley Dobrzanski, 'maydayed' for help, saying he was low on fuel and needed to land right away.

"Somehow, instead of going into it, he made a turn. He hit a powerline, then went to the ground," said club member Chester Wojlicki.

Witnesses say the craft crashed in a wooded area near the Ohio and Kentucky state lines, after first striking a power line. Rescue crews arrived to find what was left of the badly damaged plane with the pilot and the victims inside.

In addition to Dobrzanski, also killed were club treasurer Kazimierz Adamski, club member Stanley Matras, 22-year-old Monika Niemiec and her father Stanley Niemiec. Also on board the plane was Irenevsz Michalowski.

"I knew everybody, and I'm just thinking it's my husband," said one unidentified club member.

The tragedy has hit Chicago's close-knit Polish community hard. The city's Polish radio and television stations are fielding calls from Warsaw as news travels around the world about the accident.

"The government is greatly concerned about Poles living in the United States. Therefore, this is a huge story," said Sergiusz Zgrzebski of Polvision.

Federal investigators won't say how much a factor weather was or if it contributed to the crash. An official report on the cause will be released in approximately one year.

In the meantime, family and friends said they were in process of making funeral arrangements.