New insight into plane crash in Superstition Mountains

Posted: Updated:
By Jennifer Thomas By Jennifer Thomas

MESA, Ariz. -- Newly released 911 tapes provide new insight into the plane crash that killed six people, including three children, the night before Thanksgiving.

Countless people heard the plane then saw it crash and called 911.
"911 emergency… yes a plane just crashed into the Superstition Mountains," said one caller. "They didn't see the peak, they were flying blind."
They were flying in the dark from Mesa's Falcon Field to Safford for Thanksgiving but, according to the National Transportation Safety Board, just 4 minutes into the flight, the Turbo Commander crashed into the Superstition Mountains, killing all six on board.
"It certainly did lead to some questions especially because that was a specific concern that was raised over a period of a year with the FAA," said Heidi Williams, director of Air Space and Modernization for the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association.
Williams wrote a letter to the Federal Aviation Administration in 2006 voicing her concern over the 2007 Phoenix airspace redesign.
"We saw some serious safety concerns with the proposed redesign, specifically the compression, over the Superstition Mountains for VFR (visual flight rules) aircraft," Williams said.
To make room for more commercial airliners approaching Sky Harbor International Airport, the FAA lowered the floor of the Class B airspace east of Phoenix from 8,000 feet to 5,000 feet. The edge of that zone is just a couple miles out from the Superstition Mountains, which stand at 5,057 feet .
"Often when you look at a redesign you have to look at the impacts on the entire aviation community," Williams said.
FAA spokesman Ian Gregor said it’s premature to speculate on what caused Wednesday’s tragedy. 
"The FAA looks at a number of factors in every accident investigation, including pilot qualifications and performance, aircraft airworthiness, the performance of any involved air traffic control facility and the adequacy of existing regulations," Gregor said. "It's also important to know that anyone can ask for clearance to enter the Class B airspace otherwise pilots flying visual flight rules are responsible for keeping their aircraft safely separated from other aircraft and for avoiding any obstacles and terrain."
The NTSB is the lead agency on aircraft accident investigations and a preliminary report is due out later this week.
Williams says regardless of the cause, whether mechanical or pilot error, she just hopes the aviation community can learn something from it.
"It's a sad situation I hope we can learn from and avoid in the future," she said.