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Pilot dies after plane crashes in Las Vegas neighborhood

Second time in a week for plane to crash in the Las Vegas Valley

Image

Steve Marcus

Firefighters look for hot spots after a twin-engine Piper Navajo crashed into a home on North Jones Boulevard near Cheyenne Avenue today.

Updated Thursday, Aug. 28, 2008 | 9:17 p.m.

Las Vegas Plane Crash

A plane crashed into a Las Vegas Valley home on Thursday for the second time in a week. Firefighters responded immediately to calls from citizens about a low-flying plane over Highway 95 that was on fire. The plane was heading to California.

Plane crash

Firefighters look for hot spots after a twin-engine Piper Navajo crashed into a home on North Jones Boulevard near Cheyenne Avenue today. Launch slideshow »

Statement from Clark County Aviation Director Randall H. Walker

  • On behalf of the Clark County Department of Aviation, I would first like to express my deepest condolences to those impacted by today’s incident. Two fatal plane crashes occurring less than a week apart is cause for serious concern, and we have several questions to which we are now seeking answers. We know that this aircraft, a twin-engine Piper from California, arrived safely at the North Las Vegas Airport earlier this week. Our initial information indicates that this aircraft underwent mechanical work during its stay at North Las Vegas. Details of this work have yet to be confirmed. The aircraft safely departed from the airfield this afternoon, and while in the air the pilot reported an engine problem and requested permission to return to the airport. Witnesses claim the aircraft was on fire prior to going down within a residential development near Jones Boulevard, south of Cheyenne Avenue, shortly after 2:30 p.m. Pacific Daylight Time. As I noted, there are several serious questions that cannot be answered based on the information we now possess. Our staff will work to gather additional information, which will be presented when it becomes available.

Ten people lived in the two-story house at 2832 N. Jones Blvd. where a plane crash occurred Thursday afternoon, and three adults and two children were at home at the time of the crash, authorities said.

The pilot was found dead inside the wreckage of the Piper Navajo shortly after 6 p.m. Thursday by investigators from Las Vegas Fire and Rescue, Metro Police, the Federal Aviation Administration and the coroner's office, said Tim Szymanski, Las Vegas Fire Department spokesman.

A total of 12 people -- six adults and six children -- have been displaced and the American Red Cross is assisting. All pets are with their owners.

The residents ran out the front door and left the area after the crash, Szymanski said, but a mother suffered minor smoke inhalation. She was taken to University Medical Center by private ambulance, where she is expected to be treated and released.

Nearby, a dad and his teenage daughter were home in the one-story house a 2828 N. Jones. They said the lights went out in the house, then they heard a loud thump outside their kitchen. When they ran outside to investigate, they found intense flames and ran from the area, Szymanski said.

Neither family knew that a plane had crashed.

The twin-engine Piper Navajo crashed into the yard of the home at 2832 N. Jones Blvd. and burst into flames, catching two houses on fire and destroying a vehicle on the ground, Szymanski said.

"It appears, right now at this time, we only have one fatality, the pilot that was on the aircraft," Szymanski said Thursday afternoon.

The pilot has not been identified. The Piper Navajo is registered to Aeronet Supply of Gardena, Calif., in Los Angeles County. It was made in February 1981.

As the aircraft began to lose altitude, eyewitnesses described how its right wing -- with smoke pouring out of an engine -- clipped power lines and catapulted into the house's block wall and yard, where it exploded in a fireball.

At least 900 homes were without electricity, requiring police and firefighters to cordon off a large area. Power has since been restored.

The Piper Navajo flew across Jones Boulevard over a construction crew working on the road. The plane snagged three 7,200-volt Nevada Power Company lines and then hit the ground. A propeller came to rest inside the car, Szymanski said.

Severe damage occurred to wiring and Nevada Power will work all night to repair the wires. Embarq, Southwest Gas and Cox Cable also had numerous trucks in the area to repair damage to their utilities. They expect it will take most of the night to complete repairs, Szymanski said.

Jill Pedrola, a health care administrator, said she glanced out her sixth-floor window at Cheyenne Avenue and Tenaya Way, and saw an airplane sailing by, the pilot fixed on the controls.

"It was so close and so low, you knew something was wrong," Pedrola told the Sun.

"It was so low it was at eye level from the sixth floor here," she said. "You could see it was struggling."

When Pedrola and other employees in the Sierra Health building rushed to the other side, they saw a plume of smoke and the flames shooting into the sky.

Szymanski said a water tender truck already was parked at the home because of a construction project. That water was used to help extinguish the blaze.

Witnesses said they heard the plane's engine sputtering before the crash.

"The neighbors didn't even see it was an airplane -- just saw a lot of fire and started running," Szymanski said.

The plane, which was en route to Palo Alto, Calif., was approaching North Las Vegas Airport when it went down, authorities said. (See a photo of a similar plane.)

“We haven’t been through the wreckage of the plane yet because we have to wait for the federal authorities," Szymanski said. "It will be several more hours on the scene because they need to take things out piece by piece because everything tells a story."

Jones was closed from Cheyenne to Smoke Ranch Road and Bunker Middle School was in lock-down mode Thursday evening, according to Jose Montoya, a Metro police spokesman. Traffic is expected to be restricted until Friday morning’s rush hour. Schools won’t be affected.

This is the second plane to crash into a residential area near the North Las Vegas Airport in less than a week.

An experimental four-seat, rear propeller Velocity 137 RG took off about 6:28 a.m. Friday and moments later crashed through the roof of a home at 2313 Langdon Way,where Jack and Lucy Costa lived.

The crash killed the Costas and 76-year-old Mack Creekmore Murphree Jr., of Dayton, Nev., an experienced pilot with 6,250 hours of total flight time.

The owner and builder of the aircraft, Mike L. Killgore, was interviewed by the chief crash investigator who told him that a supercharger to boost the plane's engine performance was being used for the first time.

The investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board reported that the plane had a special airworthiness certificate issued on March 9.

As of March 17, the airplane had a total flight time of 5.1 hours from airports in Jean and Boulder City.

The aircraft had special permission to takeoff and land from North Las Vegas Airport.

No cause of the earlier crash has been determined.

Sun reporter Cydney Cappello contributed to this story.

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