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COLUMBUS — A small plane crashed into a cornfield and caught fire early Sunday, killing the parents of a former Harvard University student who lost a $500,000 book contract because parts of her first novel were copied from other works.
The single-engine Cirrus CR22 was leaving Rickenbacker International Airport in Columbus for a trip to New Jersey when it crashed shortly before 9 a.m., destroying the aircraft and killing both people on board.
The Ohio State Highway Patrol identified the victims as pilot Viswanathan Rajaraman, a top neurosurgeon, and passenger Mary Sundaram, both of Franklin Lakes, N.J.
Troopers said Rajaraman, 54, was a licensed pilot. Sundaram, 50, was a former physician.
The two had arrived in Columbus on Friday after visiting their daughter in Washington, D.C., and they had refueled before attempting to take off Sunday morning, Lt. Gary Matthews told The Columbus Dispatch newspaper.
The couple’s daughter, India-born Kaavya Viswanathan, 24, made headlines in 2006 because of rampant plagiarism allegations against her novel, “How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life.”
Viswanathan’s novel, about a driven, high-achieving Indian-American teen trying to get into Harvard, was published in March 2006. Within a month, The Harvard Crimson student newspaper pointed out similarities between dozens of passages of her novel and two works by Megan McCafferty, “Sloppy Firsts” and “Second Helpings.”
Viswanathan, who was 19, apologized for what she said was an unconscious imitation of books she had read and admired years earlier, and publisher Little, Brown and Co. said it would revise future editions. But within days readers pointed out similarities between her novel and several other works, including Meg Cabot’s “The Princess Diaries,” and the publisher canceled her two-book contract and withdrew her novel from sale.
Her parents’ plane was registered to a Franklin Lakes company called Buds Aviation, according to Federal Aviation Administration records. The company appeared to have no publicly listed phone number.
Investigators were trying to determine what caused the crash. The FAA sent workers to the scene, but the National Transportation Safety Board will lead the investigation because the crash was fatal, FAA regional spokesman Tony Molinaro said.
The airport closed briefly after the crash but had reopened by afternoon.
Viswanathan was born in Madras (now called Chennai), India. She and her family moved to Scotland when she was 3 and then to New Jersey when she was 12.
Her neurosurgeon father and her obstetrician mother lived on a carefully tailored cul-de-sac of sprawling homes in one of the state’s wealthiest areas. Her father specialized in cancers of the brain and spine and was a chief of neurooncology at Hackensack University Medical Center’s cancer center.
A man who answered the telephone at the family’s home Sunday night said no one there would speak about the plane crash.