Pilot killed in plane crash at Deer Valley Airport identified


by Catherine Holland / Natalie Rivers


Posted on August 4, 2010 at 6:16 AM

Updated Wednesday, Oct 23 at 6:07 AM

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PHOENIX -- One person was killed when a small plane crashed early Wednesday morning at Deer Valley Airport.

The victim was identified as James Freeman, III.

According to Phoenix police, just before 6 a.m. Freeman took off from Deer Valley Airport on route to North Carolina. Shortly after take off the plane crashed for unknown reasons at the base of a pest control business.

Aerial video from the scene captured just minutes after the crash showed the burning wreckage. A plume of dark smoke was visible for some distance.

The pilot of 3TV's news helicopter, Scott Clifton, saw the plane nose dive into the side of the City Wide Pest Control building on the northwest side of the airport just after 6 a.m. There is a surveillance camera on the side of the building into which the plane crashed. Investigators will be looking at that video as they try to piece together what happened in the minutes before the plane went down.

According to an NTSB press conference on Thursday, Freeman radioed to the tower that he was returning to close a door and did not need any assistance.

According to Tammy Rose in the 3TV news helicopter, the plane appeared to line up for landing on Runway 7-Left, which is surrounded by buildings. The runway, which is the shorter of the two runways, is situated in a manner that makes it difficult if a pilot runs into problems while on approach because there's no other place to put a plane down.

Firefighters were on the scene and had the fire out within about 15 minutes. They were able to keep the flames from spreading to the City Wide building.

The plane was a Cirrus SR-22, a single-engine high-performance plane that seats four people. One of the unique things about the Cirrus is that is equipped with an airframe parachute that can be used in case of emergency. That parachute is designed to be deployed at high altitudes. (Photo of deployed parachute)

Real-time weather data from the 3HD ForecastNet showed clear and calm conditions at the time of the crash.

Nobody on the ground was injured.

Witnesses said they saw the plane take off and then loop around. They said they heard "sputtering" just before the crash. One of the witnesses, a pilot himself, said the plane seemed to be quite low and slow after taking off.

The NTSB did confirm from surveillance video that the plane's left door  was open when it crashed, but no other findings are being reported at this time.

The NTSB is not confirming whether video from the scene showed what appeared to be the door a short distance from the rest of the wreckage.

Another Cirrus SR-22 pilot told 3TV that while an open door is distracting, it does not render the plane unflyable. Cirrus also told NTSB investigators they have accounts of doors opening and planes landing safely.

The crashed Cirrus SR-22 was registered to a Phoenix-based company called Magneto Investments Inc.

The FAA and NTSB continuing their investigation into the crash, but that will take some time.

Deer Valley Airport, which is home to an aviation school, is located in the area of 19th Avenue and Deer Valley Road in Phoenix. With 402,335 takeoffs and landings in 2009, it is the 14th busiest of all U.S. airports and the busiest general-aviation airport in the nation.