CHICAGO — Four of the six people who died when their light plane crashed in West Virginia were members of a Chicago aviation club, the club president confirmed Sunday.
The plane crashed at 1:37 p.m. Friday in a mountainous, wooded area 2.5 miles from the Tri-State Airport near Kenova, W.Va., according to National Transportation Safety Board spokesman Peter Knudson.
"The weather was heavy snow at the time," Knudson said. "There were six people on board, all fatally injured."
Although West Virginia authorities had not officially identified the victims by Sunday, dozens of friends and family members gathered at the American Polish Aero Club to reminisce about the club members they say were aboard the twin-engine Piper PA-34.
Earlier Sunday, about a thousand mourners gathered at St. Constance Catholic Church in Chicago for a memorial service for the victims, according to the pastor.
Club President Chester Wojnicki identified the members killed as Kazimieri Adamski, Wieslaw Dobrzanski, Irenevsz Michalowski and Stanislaw Matras. Wojnicki did not know their ages.
Also aboard the plane were Monika Niemiec, 26, a reporter for a Polish radio station based in Chicago, and her father, Stanley Niemiec, who was along for the ride, Wojnicki said.
The group left from Lake in the Hills, Ill. It was headed first to Charlotte, N.C., and then to Clearwater, Fla., to look at two planes for sale, Wojnicki said.
The crash happened en route to Charlotte, Wojnicki said. It remains unclear who was piloting, he added.
The group was looking to buy a plane to pull glider planes, he said. Gliders need a plane with an engine to get them into the air to be released, he said. The club, which has about 60 members, flies regular planes, and in the warmer months, gliders.
Bogumil Adamski, 29, lost his uncle, Kazimierz Adamski, in the crash.
He said his uncle was born in Poland and always dreamed of coming to the United States and learning to fly. He had his pilot's license for more than 14 years, his nephew said.
"It was his dream," Bogumil Adamski said.
The American Polish Aero Club meets in office space on the second floor of a small shopping mall, where all the stores sell Polish-made goods, and all signs are in Polish.
Dozens of people came to the club Sunday afternoon for coffee and desserts as they looked over thick photo albums showing members at club picnics, at banquets and in planes.
The picnics and banquets are annual events for the 17-year-old club. Its brochure includes a note in English saying it's the largest Polish flying club outside of Poland.
The NTSB is investigating reports that the aircraft was low on fuel and having difficulty finding the airport, which is about 13 miles west of Huntington.
"Visibility was low, about half a mile," Wojnicki said. "He declared an emergency because he was low on fuel."