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2 killed in plane crash near Boulder City Airport

Image

Charles Nevel / Special to the Las Vegas Sun

An Aero Vodochody L39 jet taxis for takeoff at the Boulder City Airport just before crashing into the desert about a half mile west of the airstrip.

Updated Friday, May 18, 2012 | 3:46 p.m.

Jet crashes near Boulder City

KSNV coverage of a jet crashing after taking off at the Boulder City Airport, May 18, 2012.

Plane Crash Near Boulder City Airport

The scene of a plane crash near the Boulder City airport on Friday, May 18, 2012. Launch slideshow »

Two people were killed Friday afternoon when a small, single-engine jet crashed just west of Boulder City Airport, authorities said.

According to Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Ian Gregor, a Czech-made Aero Vodochody L39 jet crashed for unknown reasons about a half mile from the airport. The plane, built as a high-performance military trainer, went down in a mostly barren desert area near a string of power lines.

Local authorities are reporting that both people aboard the plane were killed.

The plane crashed about 12:30 p.m. as it was taking off from the airport, Boulder City Police Chief Thomas Finn said. “It landed flat; it pancaked into the desert,” he said.

After the plane crashed, the engine was still running and caught fire, burning the rear end of the aircraft, Finn said.

Another L39 jet that took off side-by-side with the other jet circled the airport and landed safely, witnesses said.

The two aircraft are believed to have flown in from Southern California, offering rides to customers wanting to experience acrobatics and mock-dogfighting exercises, said Josh Jefferson, an employee at BFE, a fixed base operator at the airport.

The aircraft fly in several times in the spring and early summer each year, he said. Jefferson said both planes were fueled and the pilot of the second plane was taking off when he heard the pilot issue a mayday call.

Charles Nevel, a custodian at the airport, said he saw the planes take off in tandem. The jet that crashed peeled off and slowly descended before it went out of sight behind a building, he said. The same plane had safely taken off and landed earlier in the day, he said.

According to employees at various businesses at the airport, some of whom monitor aircraft radio chatter, the jet experienced some sort of difficulty when taking off. Moments after a puff of smoke appeared, the pilot radioed “mayday!” before the aircraft crashed.

Victor Thomas, who was a pilot in the Air Force for 24 years, sometimes flies out of the Boulder City Airport and was there Friday. He said flying is safer than “driving on the I-15,” but the plane crashed during the most treacherous part of a flight.

"Lift off and the one to two minutes after are the most dangerous," Thomas said. "That’s when things can go wrong if they’re going to."

Thomas said he did not think there was anything unusual or dangerous about the weather conditions Friday.

The L-39 Albatross is a popular model of jet trainer aircraft developed in the former Czechoslovakia in the 1960s. It has a single turbofan jet engine and a top speed of 485 mph, according to Hopper Flight, an L-39 jet enthusiast group.

Another website, L-39 Enthusiasts, lists 19 crashes of the aircraft since July 3, 1998, most recently a crash Jan. 20 in Rainbow City, Ala.

The Boulder City airport is not controlled, meaning there is no air traffic control tower and pilots announce their intentions on their radios, using a shared frequency.

Emergency responders, including Metro Police and Boulder City police and firefighters, were at the scene.

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  1. The standard version of this aircraft has ejection seats ... wonder if they were disabled or removed?

  2. I've been watching live helicopter video feeds... looks like the jet's wheels might have clipped some high-tension power lines and took a dive. The aircraft seems relatively intact. Parts are not strewn all over. One can see that there was an engine fire in the back left, but that might be the result of hitting a power line.

  3. According to the 4 p.m. T.V news they did not hit the power lines at all.

    The Police chief even stated that the pilot did a great job of not hitting the power lines.

    Said it appears to have lost power and pancaked. Engine was running when it hit the ground.

  4. Power off stall

  5. @ vegaslee - I was posting just after the article first appeared. The helicopters were zooming in on the power lines and showing a round object on one of the power lines at a support mast, directly along the flight path, that could have been a tire - it was not red, so I don't think it was a visual warning aide for aircraft. There were no other such objects on the lines (there would have been multi-red/white objects if the lines were marked for aircraft)

    And if it went down as quickly as indicated, I doubt the pilot really had time to "avoid" power lines.... it was, most likely, dumb luck he missed them all (several sets).

    Condolences to the families.

  6. Very sad and my condolences to the families. Out of curiosity, does anyone know if this was the plane that was offered during an episode of Pawn Stars? The jet seems familiar. Again my thoughts and prayers to the family members.