Virginia State Police have identified a 30-year-old Pennsylvania man as the pilot who lost his life in a single-engine plane crash near Batesville last week.
Kevin J. Esh, of New Holland, Pennsylvania, was remembered fondly by family and friends who remarked at a memorial service on his calmness, particularly the calmness evident in a recording of Esh’s speaking to an air-traffic controller when engine trouble ended a routine night flight.
“Listening to the audio brought a lot of closure in my heart,” Ron Yoder told mourners at Bethel Community Church, in a funeral broadcast online.
“I was able to listen to the audio as he was flying,” said Yoder. “Just the steadiness, the calmness that he had.”
Yoder and Esh worked together at Keystone Custom Decks, named for the state and founded by Esh’s late father. In late August, the company warehouse was severely damaged in what local media reports described as a two-alarm fire.
Yet Esh remained calm.
“As the fire was burning there at Keystone,” recalled Yoder, “there was a certain amount of a smile on his face. And he was just like, ‘Ron, this is just another opportunity to build back.’”
Yoder and other mourners described a young man whose pastimes included hunting, boating, and spending time with his five nephews and six siblings. Yoder said that Esh was particularly excited about taking delivery of the single-engine Piper Saratoga.
“Before he even bought his plane he showed me pictures,” said Yoder.
Online aviation records show that the plane flew into Esh’s hometown airfield, Smoketown Airport, for the first time on Aug. 9. Located in Lancaster County, about halfway between Harrisburg and Philadelphia, the general aviation facility bills itself as “Aviation’s Gateway to Amish Country.”
A few days before the crash, Esh reportedly flew to Spartanburg, South Carolina, and then left his plane for a few days in Martinsville. He set off on his final flight around 10:09 p.m. Sept. 14, headed for Smoketown.
At the speed and altitude Esh was traveling, a plane flying from Martinsville to Smoketown would have covered the 272-mile distance in an hour and 41 minutes, according to SkyVector Aeronautical Charts.
Esh was about halfway home when the problems began. His plane slowed from 161 miles per hour 101 and lost 6,000 feet of altitude in the final eight minutes of the flight that were tracked by radar and published by FlightAware.com.
“I’ve got a rough engine here, and I’m going to need an airport to land at,” Esh radioed an air-traffic controller around 10:53 p.m.. He indicated an oil-pressure problem.
Josiah Smucker, a CFII, or Certified Flight Instructor/Instrument, said at the service he had been giving Esh instrument training. On that final night, Smucker and Esh had flown to Martinsville to retrieve the Saratoga with a plan to fly back to Smoketown in separate planes.
“He was about 30 minutes behind me,” said Smucker. “Since he did have a faster plane, he would have passed me in another 30 minutes or so.”
Air-traffic communications show, and Smucker confirmed, that he could hear his trainee on the radio frequency struggling to keep the plane aloft while contemplating several emergency landing options. The instructor said he suggested some possible roads and airstrips but was otherwise powerless to assist.
“People asked how I continued to fly on,” Smucker said. “It was nothing short of God’s strength and grace, and a song he sent my way.”
Smucker said that he heard his friend announce that the plane was dipping beneath the treetops.
“The silence on the radio that night was especially loud,” said Smucker.
Smucker reached for his musical playlist, but the playlist wouldn’t cooperate.
“It just stayed on ‘Whatever May Come’ by Jeremy Camp,” said Smucker, who then quoted the song to the mourners.
“Whatever I face
Whatever the fear,
Whatever the cost,
You always draw near,
Whatever the pain,
Whatever may come,
Whatever may fall
Your love overcomes.”
Smucker said that he saw a brilliant meteor light up the sky as he continued his flight and heard that song playing on repeat.
“Through the music and God’s strength,” said Smucker, “I was able to go from praying for Kevin to accepting reality.”