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Tue, Oct. 22

Ultralight pilot apparently unhurt in Coyote Springs crash Saturday

For the second time this month, a pilot walked away from an aircraft crash near Prescott Valley. In the first incident, the pilot was well-known actor Patrick Swayze. This time, the pilot of an ultralight aircraft remains anonymous.

At approximately 8:30 Friday morning, police received a call that an ultralight had crashed in Poquito Valley, three-and-a-half miles north of Highway 89A, and directly north of the Viewpoint housing development. Both CYFD and YCSO responded, searched the area and found no pilot.

CYFD battalion chief Mike Parrish told the Tribune the original first alarm medical call to a "plane crash" requested three engines, two ambulances and a battalion chief. Enroute, the report came the aircraft was an ultralight, so he sent back two engines and an ambulance.

"When we got there, no one was around. We had no idea where the patient went," said Parrish.

The report reads: no patient, no injuries, no transport.

CYFD called the FAA, but was told the association would not investigate because the craft was considered a recreational vehicle.

Kelly Skipper, who lives about a half-mile from the crash site, said she saw the plane in the air.

"I was thinking, 'I want to do that some day,'" said Skipper. "Then I looked over at my sister's house, and when I looked back to the plane, his parachute had gone up."

Within seconds, Skipper said she heard "the loudest, scariest sound. It was unreal."

She then said the pilot ran from the aircraft, toward a white pickup truck nearby, where a house was in the framing stage.

A man at the construction site declined comment, but did mention the pilot had a boy with him. The man wasn't sure if the boy had been in the aircraft.

Jack Christopherson, Safety Program Manager for the Arizona Flight Standards District Office, confirmed that the FFA does not require registration of ultralights nor licensing of their pilots.

"An ultralight is called a flying recreational vehicle, and can be piloted by a non-certified pilot," Christopherson said.

He said the non-certified aircraft must be a single-place (seat) machine. When a passenger is present, a non-certified two-place craft can be used only for instructional purposes.

"If the passenger actually holds the controls and the pilot explains how the plane works, it becomes legal," said Christopherson. "If it's a two-place ultralight, it behooves you to get it registered, but then you have to be a registered pilot."

The safety manager said while many pilots of ultralight craft are very competent, and may even be or have been licensed pilots, the public should be wary of flying with someone who calls the flight "instructional."

He also cautioned those who buy kits and construct their own ultralight craft to use heavy duty bolts and cables specially made for airplanes, not general use hardware store equipment. He indicated that non-certified, uninspected flying machines are often built with inferior materials to save money, but such construction will not save lives.

"There are thousands of flying recreational vehicles in Arizona - we have the best weather in the country," Christopher said. "Ultralights are very simple to fly, and with all due respect, fill a niche, but if it looks like a kite, it probably is."

He speculated as to why the pilot deployed his craft's ballistic parachute, with reasons such as the engine may have died, the throttle may have become stuck wide open or a cable may have broken.

"Just to get a log, we investigate as often as we can," Christopherson said. "If a plane is registered, we investigate every accident."

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