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NTSB Releases Preliminary Report on Fatal Plane Crash in Rush Township

by on May 13, 2019 4:00 PM

The National Transportation Safety Board filed its preliminary report on the May 1 single-engine plane crash in Rush Township that claimed the lives of two State College residents.

Pilot Joseph T. Bernardo, 55, and his wife, 54-year-old Valerie D. Bernardo, were killed when the Cessna 172N crashed into the Sandy Ridge Mountain summit at 12:51 p.m., 11 minutes after they departed University Park Airport bound for Pittsburgh/Butler Regional Airport.

The Bernardos were the only two people on board the plane, which was was operated by State College-based PsyFliers Club, Inc., of which Joseph Bernardo was a member, under the provisions of Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 as a personal flight.

Preliminary air traffic control information obtained from the Federal Aviation Administration showed the pilot filed an instrument flight rules (IFR) flight plan but elected to depart with visual flight rules and asked the air traffic controller to cancel the IFR flight plan. Instrument meteorological conditions prevailed at the time, according the NTSB report.

After being cleared for takeoff, Bernardo was told to advise when the plane was leaving the class D airspace, but there were no subsequent communications.

The plane remained on runway heading for about 4.5 nautical miles while climbing to 2,500 ft mean sea level. Next the flight track turned slightly right to a west-southwest and descended to about 2,000 feet, remaining on that heading and altitude for about 10 nautical miles. The flight then turned to the same heading initially flown after takeoff, descended slightly then climbed to 2,000 feet over about 3 nautical miles.

Radar data indicated that the airplane began a right turn before radar track data was lost. The last radar target at 12:51 indicated the airplane was at about 2,050 feet, 0.11 mile southeast of the crash site.

A witness who was outside about a half mile from the crash site reported that it was foggy but not raining when she heard a loud sounding airplane. She observed the plane flying west, low and "straight," below the fog. She saw the airplane bank to the right, "not too steep," before losing sight of it when it went behind trees. She then heard an explosion and called 911.

The plane crashed in heavily wooded terrain near the top of the ridgeline at an elevation of about 2,275 feet.

A final NTSB report will determine the cause of the crash and typically takes one to two years from the start of the investigation.

Joseph Bernardo was a senior research engineer in Penn State's Applied Research Laboratory. Valerie Bernardo was a registered dietitian for 28 years. Both were Penn State graduates and were married for nearly 33 years.

Geoff Rushton is managing editor for Contact him at [email protected] or find him on Twitter at @geoffrushton.
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