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Fatal Las Vegas-bound flight too heavy, report says

PHOENIX — A plane with six people aboard crashed in Arizona in 2018 because it was overweight and had an undetected engine problem, preventing it from climbing after takeoff on a flight to metro Las Vegas, according to a federal agency’s report.

The two pilots and four passengers on the plane were all killed in the April 9, 2018, crash near Scottsdale Airport because the pilot during the initial climb “was unable to maintain airspeed which resulted in a loss of control,” the National Transportation Safety Board said in its final report issued Tuesday.

A factual report released April 6 by the safety agency had said the single-engine Piper PA-24 Comanche was overweight from a combination of occupants, baggage and fuel. It banked left and then crashed onto a golf course 70 seconds after takeoff.

The final report said an examination of the wreckage found a broken spring on a cylinder valve that surface damage indicated had failed at some point before the crash and had gone undetected. “It is likely that the failure reduced the available engine power that, although undetectable during previous flights, was more critical with the overloaded condition of the accident flight.”

The report said the plane was 135 pounds over its weight limit of 3,200 pounds and its center of gravity was more than 2 inches too far back in the plane, reducing its stability during flight.

The factual report also said an autopsy found that student pilot James Pedroza had remnants of the illegal drug known as ecstasy and metabolic remnants of cocaine in his system, but the final report said those drug remnants indicated past use, not use immediately before the crash, and “were not a factor in this accident.”

An autopsy found no drugs in instructor pilot Erik Valente’s system, according to the NTSB. He was described as an experienced airline transport pilot and flight instructor who flew the plane to Scottsdale from North Las Vegas to pick up Pedroza and four passengers.

According to the report, investigators couldn’t determine which pilot was working the controls when the crash occurred.

Passengers killed in the crash included internet “social influencer” Anand Patel, internet model Mariah Coogan, Helena Lagos and Iris Carolina Rodriguez Garcia.

Two lawsuits over the crash have been filed in Las Vegas.

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