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U.S. Aviation Official’s Plane Severed in Mid-Air Collision

May 30 (Bloomberg) -- A small plane owned by a U.S. aviation official was sliced into pieces when it collided with another aircraft over Virginia on May 28, an accident investigator said today.

The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board’s medical adviser, James Michael Duncan, 60, died along with another person in the plane when it plunged to the ground and caught fire, Jon Lee, an investigator with the Transportation Safety Board of Canada, said in a phone interview.

Lee was called in to oversee the investigation to avoid a conflict of interest, according to an e-mailed statement from the NTSB. The other plane was owned by Thomas Proven, an accident investigator for the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, the FAA said in an e-mailed statement.

Proven, 70, survived after his plane crash-landed in Sumerduck, Virginia, Corinne Geller, a spokeswoman for the Virginia State Police, said in an interview. He was flying a Piper Cherokee PA-28, Lee said.

Duncan, a physician who lived in Bethesda, Maryland, was the NTSB’s chief technical adviser for medical issues, Kelly Nantel, an agency spokeswoman, said in an e-mail. He previously served as chief of space medicine at NASA, according to that agency’s website.

Tail Severed

The passenger in Duncan’s plane was Paul Gardella Jr., 57, of Burke, Virginia, Geller said.

Investigators haven’t reviewed radar data or interviewed Proven, so they don’t know the paths the planes were on or how high they were when the collision happened, Lee said.

The rear of Duncan’s Beechcraft Bonanza BE-35, a single-engine plane that can carry as many as six people, was found away from the main wreckage, Lee said. That suggests the tail section was torn off by the impact, he said.

Evidence indicates the front section and wings fell almost straight down into a wooded area, and that the plane caught fire after it hit the ground, he said.

Because U.S. government employees were involved, NTSB Chairman Debbie Hersman, after consulting FAA acting Administrator Michael Huerta, asked the TSB in Canada to handle the investigation, the NTSB said in the release.

The U.S. safety board, an independent agency that reports directly to the White House, determines the cause of aviation accidents and makes non-binding safety recommendations. The FAA regulates the aviation industry.

To contact the reporter on this story: Alan Levin in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Rohner at

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