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Pilot’s body recovered from helicopter wreckage near Rostraver Airport

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Sean Stipp | Trib Total Media
A van from the Westmoreland County Coroner's office carrying the body of David Charletta of West Newton drives down the runway at Rostraver Airport followed by an ATV from Murrysville Medic One on Oct. 2, 2014. The ATV was used to pull the body from the wooded ravine where a gyrocopter piloted by Charletta crashed near the airport.
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Sean Stipp | Trib Total Media
Westmoreland County Coroner Kenneth A. Bacha talks to reporters at Rostraver Airport on Oct. 2, 2014, about a gyrocopter crash that killed David Charletta of West Newton.

A Westmoreland County man known for his love of flying was found dead in the wreckage of his ultralight helicopter in a deep ravine near the Rostraver Airport Thursday morning.

David Charletta, 62, of Sewickley Township, died of blunt-force trauma when the aircraft crashed in a wooded area, Westmoreland County Coroner Ken Bacha said.

Charletta rented hangar space at the airport, according to Gabe Monzo, executive director of the Westmoreland County Airport Authority. He never returned to the airport Wednesday night after a flight in his gyrocopter, which Monzo described as a single-engine, one-seat helicopter.

Authorities said Charletta left his car, keys, wallet and cellphone at the airport and didn’t come back to collect them.

“We got a call from his family (Wednesday night) that he was supposed to meet them for dinner. They knew he was flying around,” Monzo said.

Westmoreland County Team 211 search and rescue and numerous volunteer firefighters combed wooded areas near the airport into the early morning and resumed soon after daybreak Thursday.

A friend of Charletta’s who was assisting with the search flew over the wreckage about 9:30 a.m., Monzo said.

“He directed us to him,” Monzo said.

The helicopter was found 500 to 1,000 feet from the end of the runway in a steep ravine. Responders got within about 50 yards of the wreckage on all-terrain vehicles and walked the rest of the way, then carried Charletta out in a Stokes basket, Bacha said.

An autopsy will determine if Charletta suffered a “medical event” that caused the crash or if it was a possible mechanical failure, the coroner said.

Charletta was issued a private pilot’s license for single-engine aircraft in 2009, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

Based on discussions with the family, Bacha said Charletta purchased the helicopter in April or May and received pilot training out of state.

FAA spokeswoman Arlene Salac said the agency will investigate the crash. The National Transportation Safety Board will determine the cause.

Family members and airport maintenance workers said Charletta was “a very well-known and well-respected pilot, very experienced,” and had owned “multiple types of aircraft over the years.”

“He loved what he did. He was a super pilot and was very professional,” said his brother, Dean “Dino” Charletta of Trafford.

Charletta said his brother assisted aerobatic pilots at many air shows, although he did not fly the planes himself.

Charletta was a salesman at Mt. Pleasant Window and Remodeling Company. Co-worker Alisha Pravlik said he treated her and her mother, Wendy Lint, like family.

“We are kind of speechless. He worked here for about 28 years,” Pravlik said.

Charletta often shared photos of his children and grandchildren, she said.

“His office is all planes. That was one of his big hobbies,” she said.

“He was good at what he did. He was a very friendly guy. He knew a lot about the company,” Pravlik said. “He was one to bring in doughnuts. He spoiled us.”

Customers had been calling throughout the day to express condolences, she said.

Mary Pickels is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-5401 or [email protected]. Joe Napsha can be reached at 724-836-5252 or [email protected]

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