National Transportation Safety Board officials say the pilot of a small plane that crashed last year near Prescott failed to keep an adequate distance between the Piper Cheyenne he was piloting and a nearby Soviet MiG-21, which passengers in the Cheyenne were photographing.
The pilot, William "Billy" Friedman of Prescott, was trying to fly the Cheyenne under the much larger MiG when the Cheyenne flew into the MiG's high velocity jet core exhaust.
The NTSB said in its Sept. 27 report that the pilot was trying to fly under the MiG to make sure its landing gear had retracted. During the maneuver, the MiG's jet exhaust ripped off the upper section of the Cheyenne's vertical stabilizer, likely sending the plane into an irreversible dive.
An airplane stabilizer helps it remain steady in level flight.
The main part of the plane slammed upside down into the ground and burst into flames,
killing all five people aboard.
The upper half of the plane's vertical stabilizer landed about a half-mile away.
NTSB officials found no evidence that the two planes collided, as some people speculated immediately after the crash.
Friedman was the operations director of the Prescott Air Fair Association, which organizes the Arizona Skyfest air show. Passenger Warren Parkes was the executive director.
Also killed in the crash were Andy Boquet, 62, a retired military and commercial airline pilot; Donald Eugene Morris, 63, also a retired military and commercial pilot; and Joshua Vaughan, 37, a photographer and mobile disc jockey.
The crash and the deaths of the five prominent men stunned the Prescott community.
The NTSB report said Friedman and the MiG pilot agreed to stay at 2,500 to 3,000 feet above ground during their flight but did not establish a minimum separation distance because they did not intend to fly in formation.
Shortly after taking off, the MiG pilot said he had a problem retracting his landing gear. He tried again and the landing gear appeared to come up.
Friedman radioed the MiG pilot that he would fly under the plane and make sure the gear had retracted.
At the time, the aircraft were at about 9,000 feet above sea level, the report states.
Seconds later, the MiG pilot heard Friedman say something about the landing gear. The MiG pilot asked Friedman to repeat what he had said, but got no reply. After several more attempts to contact Friedman by radio, the MiG pilot saw smoke rising from the desert floor. He immediately called the Prescott air traffic controller and provided the location of the smoke.
Rescuers later found the wreckage. The pilot of the MiG, which carried one female passenger, flew the plane back to Prescott and landed safely.
The report said the Cheyenne had no apparent mechanical problems at the time of the crash.