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Items that fell from plane prove puzzling

A federal air safety investigator said Tuesday that she is puzzled by the personal items that fell from an experimental aircraft before it crashed Oct. 18 in Parowan, Utah, killing a Las Vegas pilot and seriously injuring his wife.

“We don’t know exactly what was going on,” said Kristi Dunks, air safety investigator in charge of probing the crash.

The crash killed William Grant Phillips, 59, and left his wife, Janice, in critical condition. Janice Phillips, 52, is recovering at Intermountain Medical Center in Salt Lake County, Utah, a center spokesman said.

Dunks said National Transportation Safety Board investigators plan to talk to Janice Phillips “when we’re able to.”

A preliminary report posted on the NTSB Web site said witnesses saw the plane depart the airport and climb to about 500 feet.

“The witnesses said that initially they thought that the airplane was a crop duster because it remained at such a low altitude. The airplane then entered a left turn and witnesses saw objects fall ‘… off of or out of the airplane,'” the report states.

The aircraft continued to lose altitude until its left wing tip hit the ground and broke apart, spreading debris over 200 feet.

Law enforcement personnel went to where witnesses saw objects falling before the crash and found “personal effects including clothing.”

The couple was returning to North Las Vegas Airport, where the plane was based. They owned a cabin in the Parowan area and rented a hangar at Parowan Airport, near Cedar City, Utah, the report says.

William Phillips, a retired health physicist for the Environmental Protection Agency, and Janice Phillips, a photographer, were flying in an amateur-built Heisler Lancair Legacy, an airplane assembled from a kit. The single-engine plane was certified as airworthy by the Federal Aviation Administration in 2006.

William Phillips, a 1967 graduate of Boulder City High School, was a certified airline transport pilot who was licensed to fly various aircraft as well as helicopters, gliders and hot air balloons.

Dunks said Parowan Airport is uncontrolled, “so there is no reported communications” with air traffic controllers.

When asked who the pilot was, she said, “He reportedly would have been flying the airplane.”

A Utah medical examiner, Dr. Erik Christensen, said William Phillips died of blunt injuries to his head, chest and extremities.

Christensen said there was no sign that Phillips had a heart attack, “not anything that would contribute to the accident.”

He said toxicology reports haven’t been completed.

The crash was the third fatal one since Aug. 22 involving a local pilot or experimental plane.

On Aug. 22, veteran pilot Mack Murphree was killed when the home-built Velocity plane he was flying crashed into a house after taking off from North Las Vegas Airport. A couple inside the house, Jack and Lucy Costa, died. The plane was owned by Mike and Kay Killgore, formerly of Las Vegas.

On Oct. 5, former Air Force test pilot Greg Jaspers of Las Vegas was killed when his Bonde TF-51D crashed near Sandy Valley. The plane, known as a Thunder Mustang, was built from a kit by a previous owner in 2003.

A preliminary NTSB accident investigation report said Jaspers was experiencing a malfunction of the left main landing gear and had made a series of low approaches over Sky Ranch Airport while talking on a radio to people on the ground.

“After conducting four passes over the runway, the pilot was able to extend the left main landing gear about two-thirds of the way down,” the report states.

At about 500 feet above ground, the plane “appeared to enter a slip,” witnesses said. That was followed by an immediate nose-first roll to the right before the plane crashed in the desert near Sandy Valley.

Contact reporter Keith Rogers at krogers@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0308.

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