Pilot’s response to tower: ‘Goin’ in’

An air traffic controller at the North Las Vegas Airport calmly asked veteran pilot Mack Murphree, "Do you need any assistance, sir?" before the home-built airplane Murphree was flying plunged into a house on Aug. 22, killing him and a couple inside the house.

The 76-year-old Murphree, whose call sign was "415 Mike Kilo," as heard on an audiotape released Friday by the Federal Aviation Administration, replied back seven seconds later in an excited voice, saying, "Goin’ in. Goin’ in. Goin’ in."

Seven seconds after that, with noise from his rear-propeller engine in the background, he shouts, "Goin’ in!"

Those were his last words before the plane, a Velocity 173 RG, slammed into Jack and Lucy Costa’s home near Lake Mead Boulevard and Simmons Street and burst into flames at 6:30 a.m. on Aug. 22.

Six seconds later the air traffic controller instructs another aircraft to hold its position on the runway instead of taking off.

Then, the pilot of a television news helicopter, TV 3, advises the tower that he is leaving airspace above the Spaghetti Bowl to head northwest "where that dark black smoke is coming from."

Later, the air traffic controller at the North Las Vegas Airport is heard discussing "the accident" with an authority, saying, "Yeah. He departed Runway One-Two right. He was supposed to be in the pattern. I looked up and he wasn’t climbing very good.

"So I asked if he needed any assistance … but he just keyed up a couple times, and said, ‘I’m going down. I’m going in. I’m going in. I’m going in,’" the controller said.

A preliminary report by National Transportation Safety Board investigators states that Murphree, of the Northern Nevada community of Dayton, was an experienced pilot who had amassed 6,250 hours flight time on various aircraft.

The experimental plane he was flying, owned by Mike Killgore, formerly of Las Vegas, had only 5.1 hours of flight time as of March 17. The plane’s base of operations was Show Low, Ariz., where Killgore resides.

The aircraft was equipped with a device to boost the power of the engine in thin air and Murphree had permission to make a flight test "with the supercharger engaged," the report states. "This was to be the first time it would be engaged for a flight."

The crash on Aug. 22 was the first of two in a six-day span involving planes leaving the North Las Vegas airport.

On Friday, the National Transportation Safety Board released a preliminary report on the Aug. 28 crash of a twin-engine Piper Navajo Chieftain that killed another experienced pilot, William J. Leahy Jr., 38, of Redwood City, Calif.

Leahy was flying the plane for Aeronet Supply, an airplane brokerage company in Gardena, Calif.

"According to Aeronet’s owner, the recently hired contract pilot (Leahy) was intending to fly the airplane to Palo Alto, Calif., where the connection of previously installed ferry tanks and avionics would be completed" for a later flight to Korea, the report states.

Seven minutes after he departed Runway 07 at North Las Vegas Airport, the plane had climbed to 3,900 feet altitude and was five miles west of the airport.

Then the airplane lost altitude making a left turn, dropping 700 feet, down to an altitude of 3,200 feet.

A minute later, Leahy "advised a radar controller at the FAA Las Vegas Approach Control facility that he was ‘declaring an emergency’" and would "immediately" return to Runway 07.

Instead, the plane hit a tree, power lines, and an unoccupied car in the driveway of a house, 1.2 miles west of the runway.

The plane struck the side of the two-story house at 2828 N. Jones Boulevard, and caught fire. Four people in the house escaped without injury and one person received minor injuries.

Witnesses told investigators they saw fire and white smoke near the plane’s right engine before it crashed.

The wreckage has been recovered and an examination of its engine assemblies, propellers, and fuel system is pending, the report states.

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

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