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NTSB: Plane that crashed in Arizona killing two Utah teens was flying low

The Associated Press

Published: Thu, July 31 8:42 p.m. MDT

 Daulton Whatcott, 19, and Jaxon Whatcott, 16, both from Clinton, died in a plane crash in the gorge along the I-15 freeway, along the Utah-Arizona border Sunday, July 20, 2014.

Daulton Whatcott, 19, and Jaxon Whatcott, 16, both from Clinton, died in a plane crash in the gorge along the I-15 freeway, along the Utah-Arizona border Sunday, July 20, 2014.

(Arizona Department of Public Safety)

LITTLEFIELD, Ariz. (AP) — A federal investigator says the pilot of a small plane that crashed in far northwestern Arizona was flying well below what's allowed by regulation.

Newly licensed pilot, 19-year-old Daulton Whatcott, and 16-year-old Jaxon Whatcott, were headed to a basketball tournament in Nevada when the single-engine Cessna crashed near the Arizona-Utah border on July 20. The brothers from Clinton, Utah, died.

National Transportation Safety Board investigator Larry Lewis said Thursday that motorists on Interstate 15 saw the plane hit a canyon wall, about 100 feet above the elevation of the road. Lewis says the plane should have been flying at a minimum 500 feet.

Preliminary information indicates the plane rounded a corner and turned upside down before striking the canyon wall and sparking a small fire.

A full report isn't expected for months.

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1. TheProudDuck
Newport Beach, CA,
July 31, 2014

From this article, I can't tell whether the brothers were in fact flying lower than required by FAA regulations.

Part 91, Section 119 deals with Minimum Safe Altitudes. 500 feet is the minimum over populated areas that aren't "congested." Over "sparsely populated" areas (which appears to include the canyon accident site), the requirement is to have sufficient altitude to maintain a 500-foot linear separation from any person, vessel, vehicle, or structure.

The article says the plane crashed 100 feet above the elevation of the road -- but if it was more than 500 feet distant from the road, it was in compliance with the rules.

Whether flathatting through a canyon is a wise aviation decision is another question.

2. DN Subscriber
Cottonwood Heights, UT,
July 31, 2014

Flying below the height of nearby terrain may not be against the rules, but it has killed a lot of pilots. Pilot error is a leading cause of airplane accidents.

There are old pilots and bold pilots, but no old, bold pilots.

3. Hamath
Omaha, NE,
Aug. 1, 2014

By this logic, almost every crash ever has broken the rules. When you crash, you by sheer mathematics, will be flying low at some point. Maybe something was wrong with the plane? I just heard about a lawsuit against the small plane developers for safety regulation shortcuts. Or maybe they were joyriding? In either case, it is a tragedy.

4. one old man
Ogden, UT,
Aug. 1, 2014

To this old pilot, it sounds as if the young men had given in to desire for a bit of a thrill ride and the older brother was trying to fly down the canyon below the rim's elevation. That canyon twists and turns. Perhaps more rapidly than a 172 is capable of turning or perhaps beyond the capabilities of a low time and inexperienced pilot. He may have suddenly found himself with no escape route -- something you never should fly without.

It's a terrible tragedy no matter what. It will be interesting to see what the final probable cause statement is from the NTSB.