Two recent Anderson University graduates were among five killed in a plane crash just outside of Bloomington late Thursday night. The plane wasn’t discovered until about 4 a.m. Friday. The cause of the accident is unknown. Zachary J. Novak, 25, a 1999 Highland and a 2004 AU graduate; and Garth A. Eppley, 25, a 2003 AU graduate from Wabash, both died in the crash. The Indiana University Schools of Music graduate students were returning from a rehearsal for a community concert in West Lafayette when the plane disappeared from radar about 11:40 p.m. Thursday (visit a special tribute page on the IU Jacobs School of Music web site). Nicole Meyer of the Monroe County coroner’s office said all five students died instantly [Story courtesy of the Anderson Herald-Bulletin. Photo l-r: Zach Novak and Garth Eppley].
Emergency crews found the badly damaged craft more than four hours later, upside down in dense woods just south of the airport a couple miles west of Bloomington. Also killed in the crash were Georgina H. Joshi, 24, of South Bend; Robert Clayton Samels, 24, of Medina, Ohio; and Chris Bates Carducci, 27, of Monroe, Mich.
“We’re all a bit numb,” said Jeffrey Wright, Dean of the College of Arts at AU. Wright knew both Zachary Novak and Garth Eppley personally.
“Zach was one of the most bright and articulate men I’ve met at Anderson University. He was energetic and full of life.”
Zach had graduated from AU with a bachelor’s degree in music education. Garth graduated with a degree in voice performance.
“I can remember my first time to meet Zach when he was a prospective student (at AU),” Wright said. “He came to meet with the department and audition. Because he grew up in Anderson, I had already heard wonderful things from community members about him and his talent.”
Wright recalled hearing a performance of Zach’s.
“I was standing at the back of room and being moved so deeply with his sensitive performance and mature artistry. He was so talented and so young.”
Wright said Garth will be remembered for his energy.
“Garth was so full of life and full of gusto. He embraced life with both arms and was a type of person who was as comfortable at home with riding his motorcycle on long trips as he was in the concert hall. He was just a dynamic personality and that personality came through in his singing performance very very strongly. He was a great presence on stage.”
Investigators from the Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board were searching for answers about what caused the single-engine Cessna to crash in heavy fog. But without a cockpit recorder and with no distress call from the plane, answers were few Friday.
Ed Malinowski, an air safety investigator for the NTSB, said the probe would look at the plane, the pilot and the weather. A preliminary report could be available within a week, but the final report could take a year or more, he said. Malinowski said visibility was about a mile at the time.
“This is a devastating loss that is deeply felt on the Bloomington campus,” said IU President Adam Herbert at a news conference Friday afternoon.
Autopsies were scheduled for Friday night and Saturday.
“They were rising stars in their own fields — Zach in the world of conducting and Garth in the world of performance and were on stellar tracts,” Wright said. “As we feel a great loss personally, we also feel that this was a great loss to the world of music.”
A memorial service was planned Friday evening at First United Methodist Church, where Zach was worship coordinator and directed the Wesley choir and children’s choir. Church members put up silver-framed photo of Zach on a table with three white roses as a photo collage of him stood nearby.
“Zach was just a beautiful person, more full of life than anyone I know,” associate pastor Jimmy Moore said.
He said Zach “found a way to enter our hearts” in his year and half employed at the church.
“He was full of vigor, energy and wit, and he could sing like a bird,” Moore said. “He loved our children, and they loved him.”
— STACEY M. LANE GROSH is a reporter with The Herald-Bulletin in Anderson, Indiana ( www.theheraldbulletin.com ). The Associated Press contributed to this story.