PEORIA - Four men were killed Sunday when a glider and a small plane collided in midair and plummeted to the ground near Lake Pleasant.
The glider was doing "acrobatic" maneuvers. The plane had just taken off from Pleasant Valley Airport, said Peoria fire spokesman Mike Tellef.
"Just as it passed underneath the glider, the glider nose-dived into the aircraft," Tellef said. "A half-second’s time difference, and they would have missed."
Officials said the crash happened at about 1:15 p.m. near Turf Soaring School, 8700 W. Carefree Highway.
Keith Coulliette, 30, an instructor at the school and son of the school’s owner, was flying the 1983 Schleicher model glider. Matthew Broadus, 36, of Redmond, Wash., was the glider passenger.
Carl Remmer, 82, of Sun City was flying the Piper J3 Cub airplane. Bob Shaff, a Phoenix resident in his mid-80s, was his passenger.
The National Transportation Safety Board will begin its investigation today. The investigation could last up to a year, a spokesman said.
The twisted aircraft was in the desert brush northwest of a runway at the school, which is also the site of the airport.
It was unknown how high the glider and airplane were when they collided. Tellef said there are many ultralight and small-engine aircraft in the area. Hot air balloons also could be seen in the distance.
"It’s surprising we don’t have more of this out here," Tellef said.
The airport doesn’t have a control tower, but that is typical for an airport of its size, he said.
The mood at a pilots lounge near the 35-year-old school was somber. One man, who declined to give his name, said he was a school employee and knew Keith Coulliette.
"I’ve known him since he was a baby," the man said, wiping away tears.
According to the school’s Web site, Keith Coulliette has logged more than 3,000 hours and 5,000 flights since he soloed at age 14.
The man said the school emphasizes safety.
"We can’t afford to learn from our own mistakes in aviation," he said. "We have to learn from other people’s."
The NTSB will begin with an on-scene investigation that should last two to four days, a spokesman said. It includes examining the debris in the field, the engine and the formation of the aircraft. There will also be an investigation of the pilots’ histories, including their sleep and rest patterns over the past 72 hours.