An airline pilot who was donating charity rides was killed and his passenger critically injured Saturday when their single-engine plane crashed into Mesa’s Falcon Field Municipal Airport just after takeoff, authorities said.
The pilot, whose name was not released, was offering rides in his Piper Super Cub for a charitable cause as part of the annual Veterans Day Fly-In of the Arizona Wing Commemorative Air Force at the airfield near Greenfield and McKellips roads this weekend.
Mesa fire spokesman Mark Freeman described the pilot, who was killed on impact, as a highly experienced pilot. He was a member of the Arizona Wing Commemorative Air Force.
The passenger, a 42-yearold man whose name also was not released, was flown to Scottsdale Healthcare Osborn hospital in critical condition.
Officials said the plane took off from the airport’s far north runway at 12:30 p.m. and then nose-dived in the middle of its climb off the runway, crashing into two parked air tankers. No one on the ground was injured.
The heavily damaged plane was wedged under the wing of a tanker, and both men had to be extricated from the wreckage.
"This is just a very unfortunate, tragic accident with the winds out here at this time," Freeman said.
Authorities said strong crosswinds across the runway may have contributed to the crash. The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating.
This is the sixth fatal plane crash this year for aircraft flying out of or into Falcon Field.
Patrick Scofield, a commercially rated pilot from Mesa who attended the fly-in event, said he hopes the crash doesn’t cloud the public’s perception of aviation.
"This (event) is a great way for the public to encounter aviation," Scofield said.
"This has the danger of putting aviation in a bad light, and I’d hate for that to happen. These kinds of things do happen sometimes."
The annual gathering of pilots will continue today, with all the proceeds benefiting the troops in Iraq.
Donations will buy care packages filled with phone cards, sunscreen, candy, CDs and toothpaste.
About 40 historical aircraft are on display, and plane rides cost between $50 and $400 per person.