Bald Eagle

Centre County plane crash claims the lives of two State College residents

The plane crash Wednesday afternoon in Rush Township claimed the lives of two State College residents, the Centre County Coroner’s Office confirmed Thursday night.

The pilot was 55-year-old Joseph T. Bernardo and the passenger was his wife, 54-year-old Valerie Bernardo.

Autopsies were completed Thursday, but results are pending additional testing, County Chief Deputy Coroner Judith D. Pleskonko said in a news release.

The plane, a Cessna C172, departed University Park Airport and crashed into the side of the Sandy Ridge Mountain at about 1 p.m., according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

Residents who heard the crash said it sounded like the fuel tank exploded.

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Debris is scattered on the top of Sandy Ridge from a single-engine plane crash Wednesday that claimed the lives of two State College residents. Columbia Fire Company Photo provided

“My parents heard a plane that sounded like it was having issues, then heard it crash into the mountain with a loud bang,” Daniel Christine Jr., whose parents live on Mountain Road, said.

Christine Jr. and his father then helped lead state troopers up the dirt mountain road to the crash site, where he said they could see flames and debris.

First Responders had to use all-terrain vehicles to access the site, which was about 2 miles up the mountain and difficult to find with the heavy fog that afternoon and the trees. Firefighters were on the scene for nearly nine hours, with Mountain Top Fire Company assuming command and Columbia, Bald Eagle, Neptune, Philipsburg and Port Matilda also responding, along with state police and EMS.

State police said the investigation has been handed over to the FAA and The National Transportation Safety Board to determine the probable cause of the crash. The NTSB on Thursday said the preliminary crash report will be released in about two weeks, and the final report with the probable cause and analysis could take 12-24 months.