Autopsy finds pilot’s health wasn’t a factor in crash

LAKE PLACID – An autopsy conducted Monday afternoon ruled Saturday’s plane crash an accident and said the health of the pilot was not a factor.

Fred Y. Kafka, 63, of the Ohio River city of Vienna, West Virginia, was the pilot of the Mooney M20 plane that crashed and killed all three on board, including his daughter Kathleen F. Kafka, 24, and Reed Phillips, 25, of Midland, Michigan.

“(Fred Kafka) was in good health,” Essex County Coroner Frank Whitelaw said. “There is no evidence of any medical event participating this.”

The three passengers’ deaths were “essentially instantaneous,” Whitelaw said. They died from a result of multiple blunt-force injuries as a result of the plane crash, as determined by medical examiner Dr. C. Francis Varga at Adirondack Medical Center in Saranac Lake.

State police Investigator Jonathan Garrow said Fred Kafka and his girlfriend flew initially from West Virginia to Nantucket, Massachusetts. On Friday morning they traveled to an airport in Potsdam, where he met with his daughter and a friend, Phillips, both of whom were physical therapy graduate students at Clarkson University in Potsdam.

“They had arranged a day trip of sightseeing to take place in the Lake Placid region,” Garrow said.

Whitelaw said Phillips was the front-seat passenger next to the pilot.

All of the victims’ family members have been notified by state police, including Kathleen Kafka’s husband, her family, Phillips’ family and Fred Kafka’s girlfriend, who was at a hotel.

The crash occurred after two planes approached the Lake Placid Airport’s runway at about the same time, Garrow said. Fred Kafka aborted his landing and made a “hard bank” right from the landing strip. The other plane also banked right, which is “standard procedure” for the situation, Garrow said.

“At that point Mr. Kafka completed a steep incline to gain altitude,” Garrow said. “As he came back around, he was at such a steep incline, according to witnesses, he reached 200 feet, appeared to level off, and then the left wing folded and the aircraft made a downward spiral to the ground.”

The plane crashed about a quarter-mile from the airport in a horse field on River Road, where it was engulfed in flames that were later extinguished by the Lake Placid Volunteer Fire Department. The plane’s wreckage was removed from the field around 1 p.m. Sunday and transported to the state police Troop B headquarters in Ray Brook, where it is being inspected by the Federal Aviation Administration. An FAA official did not give a time frame of when the report would be completed. Garrow said the FAA will file a preliminary report in 10 days.

Jim Bennon, president of the Mid-Ohio Valley Aviation Association, said Fred Kafka had been a member of the pilot association for several years and was an active pilot who enjoyed flying around the country. He also described Kafka as a positive person.

“He was a good guy; I liked him,” Bennon said. “I always enjoyed my time when I was with Fred.”

A vigil will be conducted at Clarkson University, but a date has not yet been set, according to the college’s media relations spokesman, Michael P. Griffin.

“It’s a heart-wrenching ordeal,” Garrow said. “Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family.”

The Parkersburg (West Virginia) News and Sentinel contributed to this report.