Aviation officials were investigating whether an experimental aircraft that crashed into a North Las Vegas house and killed three people Friday morning was authorized to fly over populated areas.
The homemade Velocity 173 RG had only five hours of flight time, according to a National Transportation Safety Board investigator.
Federal Aviation Administration regulations normally require such aircraft to log 40 hours of flight time before flying over densely populated urban areas.
"I have the log book that shows it only had five hours of flight time," NTSB investigator Elliott Simpson said Friday evening. "I’m not an expert on FAA rules, so I don’t want to delve into that at this point."
The small single-engine plane with a rear propeller crashed into a home near Lake Mead Boulevard and Simmons Street and burst into flames shortly after takeoff from the North Las Vegas Airport about 6:30 a.m. Friday.
Authorities said the pilot had difficulty gaining altitude and radioed the control tower that he was going down.
It took North Las Vegas firefighters about 20 minutes to extinguish an intense fire in the single-story home.
The pilot and one resident of the home were killed in the crash. A second resident died at University Medical Center.
Family members identified the residents as Jack and Lucy Costa, retired New York natives who had been living in Southern Nevada for 10 years.
"They were fine people. They were enjoying life," said the Costas’ son-in-law, Tony Sgueglia, as his wife, Pauline Sgueglia, cried and held him at their North Las Vegas home.
Jack Costa, 80, worked at Stella D’oro Biscuit Co. in New York before he retired, Tony Sgueglia said. Lucy Costa, 77, was a homemaker.
Pauline’s brother, John Costa, was living at the home with his parents but was at work when the accident happened, they said.
"Right now he has the coat on his back. That’s it," Tony Sgueglia said.
The aircraft was owned by Mike Killgore, according to FAA records. Killgore lived in Las Vegas until selling his house in February and moving to Show Low, Ariz. He could not be reached, but a woman who answered the door at Killgore’s home declined to comment, citing the advice of a lawyer.
The pilot, whose name was not immediately released, had more than 40 years of experience as a pilot, flight instructor and mechanic, FAA spokesman Ian Gregor said.
FAA regulations for certifying and flying home-built experimental aircraft, such as the Velocity 173 RG, normally require 40 hours of flight testing over remote, unpopulated areas before flying over urban areas. Even then, such aircraft are barred from flying in densely populated areas except for takeoffs and landings.
At a news conference hours after Friday’s crash, Clark County Aviation Director Randall Walker called for changes in federal regulations that would give airports more authority over what types of aircraft take off and land at their facilities.
"I do not believe … that experimental aircraft and high-risk aircraft operations such as training and solo flights belong in an urban airport," Walker said.
Such operations should be conducted at rural locations such as the Jean Airport, but federal regulations don’t allow local airports to ban certain aircraft from their facilities, he said.
"We cannot direct which aircraft go to which airports," he said.
Walker said he considers experimental aircraft among the "highest risk operations" at airports.
"You don’t call Boeing 737s ‘experimental aircraft,’" he said.
But Gregor said experimental aircraft are "absolutely" safe, must pass annual inspections like other privately owned aircraft and must have an airworthiness certificate issued by the FAA.
The plane that crashed on Friday received its certificate in 2002, Gregor said.
Walker said he plans to meet with Nevada’s members of Congress to address federal regulations "that don’t allow us to manage our airport systems in the most safe and efficient way."
Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., said she will follow up on Walker’s call for congressional action.
"This latest incident raises the question of what can be done to address the safety concerns of those living in the flight path of the North Las Vegas Airport," Berkley said.
Nevada’s senators were taking a wait-and-see position.
Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., would work with local officials "in determining the best way forward to resolve this concern," spokesman Tory Mazzola said.
Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., said he would wait until investigations of the crash were completed before deciding "if there’s something we can do."
Meanwhile, the Sgueglias were in a state of shock and found it difficult to talk about the accident.
"What is there to say?" Tony Sgueglia said, fighting back tears. "August 6, that was her birthday. We had them over on Sunday. We had a cake for them and everything."
Review-Journal writers Brian Haynes, Lawrence Mower, Keith Rogers and Steve Tetreault contributed to this report.
Contact reporter Lynnette Curtis at email@example.com or 702-383-0285.ON THE WEB: Watch the video