Air traffic controllers at North Las Vegas Airport scrambled Aug. 28 to clear a runway for a pilot to land a plane with one of its engines on fire but lost contact with him shortly before he crashed into a house, an audiotape released Tuesday by the Federal Aviation Administration reveals.
William Leahy Jr., who was flying a twin-engine Piper Navajo Chieftain bound for Palo Alto, Calif., declared an emergency about eight minutes after he took off from North Las Vegas Airport and advised the FAA’s local approach control facility that he was returning to Runway 07.
A male controller’s voice references the plane’s call sign, N212HB: "Yeah uh, two hotel bravo, what’s he doing?"
A woman replies: "He’s the emergency … burnt … engine."
"He’s what?" the male controller asks.
"Emergency, left burning engine," she says.
Another controller in the background can be heard saying, "One soul on board."
"OK. Emergency. You going to ship him to us or you just going to let him land?" the first controller asks.
"Give him to you," the woman says.
One minute later the controllers discuss a landing procedure.
"Navajo two-one-two hotel bravo, North Las Vegas tower," one of them says, pausing for a reply. "Navajo two hotel bravo North Las Vegas tower. Runway seven cleared to land. Wind variable at four."
With nothing audible from Leahy, another controller says, "I’m going to keep him. He doesn’t know if he’ll make the airport so just keep a real close eye on him."
"Yeah, he’s cleared to land seven."
"That’s what I told him."
Moments later, the plane struck a tree, power lines and an unoccupied car in the driveway of a house, 1.2 miles west of the runway, killing him and injuring one person in the house.
Four others inside the house at 2828 N. Jones Boulevard escaped without injury.
"Las Vegas supervisor, North Las Vegas tower," the first controller says. "Yeah. He didn’t make it to the airport. He uh …"
"Alright," the supervisor says. "Alright he’s down. Thanks."
Next, an air mobile rescue unit contacts the tower.
"Aircraft still in the air?"
"Air mobile. Negative."
"Roger. Is that what I’m looking at?"
"Air mobile one. No comment," the tower controller says in a subdued voice. "All aircraft on the ground stand by."
About 30 seconds later, a first responder on the ground asks, "Can you guys depict the location on that smoke over there or no?"
"County mobile. Average about a mile, about a mile from final for Runway Seven," the tower controller says.
At the beginning of the 39-minute recording, Leahy, 38, is heard preparing for take-off.
Leahy requests clearance to climb to 10,500 feet initially in the direction of Beatty.
The plane, owned by Aeronet Supply of Gardena, Calif., was destined for Palo Alto to complete connection of long-distance fuel tanks and avionics for a later flight to Korea, according to a preliminary accident investigation report released Sept. 5 by the National Transportation Safety Board.
Investigators determined that the plane reached 3,900 feet altitude seven minutes after takeoff and was five miles west of the airport when it lost altitude making a left turn, dropping 700 feet.
One minute later, Leahy, of Redwood City, Calif., declared an emergency and advised the FAA Las Vegas Approach Control facility that he would immediately return to the North Las Vegas Airport.
Witnesses told investigators they saw fire and white smoke near one of the plane’s engines before it crashed.
The crash was the second in a six-day span near the North Las Vegas Airport.
On Aug. 22, Mack Murphree, a 76-year-old pilot from Dayton in Northern Nevada, crashed an experimental plane into Jack and Lucy Costa’s house near Lake Mead Boulevard and Simmons Street.
Murphree and the Costas were killed in the fiery crash of the home-built aircraft owned by Mike and Kay Killgore, formerly of Las Vegas.
The National Transportation Safety Board is still investigating both fatal crashes.
Contact reporter Keith Rogers at email@example.com or 702-383-0308.ON THE WEB Listen to the tape