- Associated Press - Thursday, May 12, 2016

LAS VEGAS (AP) - Two men who died in a stunt plane near Las Vegas were performing “air combat” maneuvers with two other planes before crashing near a hilltop, according to a preliminary report.

The crash happened April 30 during a paid excursion offered by a Las Vegas tourism company with a history of noted safety issues. Sky Combat Ace allows paying customers - even those without any previous flight experience - to fly and control its acrobatic planes. The Federal Aviation Administration allows anyone to fly a plane as long as there is a licensed pilot alongside to provide instruction.

A preliminary report issued by the National Transportation Safety Board indicates the fixed-wing single-engine plane crashed about a half hour after take-off from Henderson Executive Airport.

It hit mountainous terrain about 12 miles south of the airport and left an 800-foot-long path of debris near a hilltop west of the dry lake beds near the town of Jean, about 30 miles south of Las Vegas. All of the major parts of the plane were recovered and will be further examined for the final accident report expected months from now.

Pilot Benjamin Anderson Soyars, 37, of Las Vegas, and Steve Anthony Peterson, a 32-year-old customer from Rohnert Park, California, were found dead. Their deaths were ruled accidental by the coroner’s office.

The NTSB investigators said they were told by representatives of the parent company, Vegas Extreme Adventures LLC, that the fatal flight went up for a “simulated air to air combat mission” with two other airplanes. The exercise allowed two planes to “maneuver against each other” while a third watched from a distance.

Company spokeswoman Megan Fazio initially claimed no other planes were involved but on Wednesday confirmed the other planes noted in the crash report. She also said video footage of the exercise taken from the air is not being released.

Fazio had also initially claimed an “incident free” safety record but has since refused to answer questions about at least five documented safety concerns formally noted in FAA and NTSB records from the past five years the business has been in operation. None of those cases resulted in injury, though one incident in March 2015 involved the same Sky Combat Ace airplane that crashed April 30.

Fazio had said the passenger paid for and had performed the “Sky Combat” experience. The website indicates the tour package allows the student to fly the plane while the instructor teaches “the art of aerial dogfighting.”

The NTSB report said the company that afternoon realized the plane was missing and launched another airplane to search for it after the two others landed back at the airport. The crash report noted that visibility was found to be sufficient at the time. There was no flight plan filed.

The company, which also operates in San Diego, offers aerobatic, air combat and sightseeing flight experiences with package prices ranging from $150 to $2,000, according to its website. Its signature offering allows customers to fly stunt planes with instructors’ supervision.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide