Four skydivers and a pilot miraculously escaped injury Saturday night after the fiery crash of their single-engine plane in Gilbert, Arizona, a town of nearly 250,000 people about 30 minutes by car southeast of Phoenix.
Here’s what you need to know about Saturday’s Arizona plane crash.
1. The Crash Happened at 7:19 p.m.
Witnesses saw a plane crash in a fireball in the skies over Gilbert early Saturday evening — and the plane crashed at 7:19 p.m. local time, which is Mountain Standard Time, according to Gilbert Fire Department Captain Gary Hildebrandt, who spoke to The Arizona Republic newspaper.
The plane was a Cessna 182, according to Allen Kenitzer, a spokesperson for the Federal Aviation Administration, quoted by KNXV TV News.
“My husband and I were on our swing outside watching this plane go around, and all of a sudden we heard this big bang and we saw the plane catch on fire,” eyewitness Jeri Kimbro told The Arizona Republic newspaper. Kimbro resides in Chandler, a town neighboring Gilbert to the immediate southwest. The plane went down near Cooper and Ray roads, not far from the line dividing the two Arizona towns.
“I saw a ball of flame straight down,” another eyewitness, Mason Paulette, told the Republic newspaper. “It’s not something you want to see.”
The cause of the crash remained unknown as investigators arrived on the scene in the following days.
2. The Plane Crashed Into a House, With No Injuries On the Ground
The aircraft crashed into a private home on the 400 block of East Baylor Lane in Gilbert. The Gilbert Fire Department said that two people were occupying the home when the plane crashed into the structure — but amazingly they escaped without injuries as the plane crashed into the back of the house, causing serious structural damage to the dwelling.
The two people in the home were identified the East Valley Tribune newspaper as Peter Lebeau and Sharon Lebeau, who were simply watching television when the plane plunged into their house, destroying it — yet leaving them unscathed.
The entire back of the home was obliterated in the crash, according to a report Monday by KTVK TV News in Arizona.
Local media attempted to speak to the occupants of the house, but they didn’t want to be interviewed. However, neighbors Kevin and Catharina Wilhelmsen created a GoFundMe campaign to aid the devastated couple, saying that the Lebeaus had “lost their entire home and all of their belongings.”
“While we waited on the street last night watching the fire fighters try to control the fire and damage he said to me, ‘this is all I have!!!’ as he looked at his t-shirt and sweat pants,” Kevin Wilhemsen wrote, adding that his own home had also suffered smoke damage from the blaze that engulfed the Lebeau home.
By about 9:20 p.m. local time, firefighters said that they had the blaze under control at the stricken home.
3. The Plane Burst Into Flame In Mid-Air
Eyewitness reports described the plane as a “fireball” crashing from the sky. Large columns of smoke were seen rising to the sky after the plane hit the ground.
Kilgore radioed prior to the crash, telling ground controllers that fire had somehow broken out on one of the plane’s wings, Hildebrandt said.
Audio of the final radio transmission from the pilot to ground controllers can be accessed at this link. On the recording the pilot can be heard telling the controllers, “I’m having an emergency situation. Fire on the wing. Fire in the airplane.”
After that, the plane’s radio goes silent as controllers try to stay in contact with the pilot. But the plane had already crashed. The final voice on the recording, telling controllers, “That plane went down,” belongs to a Southwest Airlines pilot who was flying in the area at the time.
Local resident Brook Constance was attending a kids’ soccer game when she heard what she described as the plane’s engine exploding, the East Valley Tribune reported. Constance then watched the skies as the plane plummeted to the ground in a mass of flame.
What might have caused the fire and indeed, any circumstances that may have led to the crash remained murky, according to the FAA spokesperson. Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board were on the scene Monday morning examining the wreckage of the Cessna aircraft and the rubble of the Lebeau home, as well as any other evidence from the crash.
4. The Pilot, Ryan Michael Kilgore, Ejected From the Crashing Plane
Averting certain death, the pilot of the parachutists’ plane, later identified by his brother as Ryan Michael Kilgore of Tempe, Arizona, managed to eject from the doomed aircraft and parachute safely out of harm’s way. He was reported to have suffered burns and was hospitalized, KNXV TV News reported. The pilot himself was a trained skydiver, which enabled him to safely eject from the plane.
According to a GoFundMe page created by the pilot’s brother Colton, Ryan Kilgore is currently hospitalized, and his recovery time is not known.
“Ryan landed safely but has suffered burns and is currently in the hospital undergoing trauma evaluation,” Colton Kilgore wrote. “We have very few details currently; we know that he is alive but injured.”
Kilgore had recently been honored by the Federal Aviation Administration which included him in its FAA Airmen Certification Database, signifying that Kilgore had “met or exceeded the high educational, licensing and medical standards established by the FAA,” according to The Aviation Business Gazette.
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5. The Skydivers Were Part Of a Local Fair
The skydivers aboard the plane were part of a local celebration known as the Constitution Fair, a Saturday event that started at 6 p.m. at the Gilbert Civic Center and was to feature 50 skydivers showing off their aerial skills.
All four skydivers in the crashed Cessna 182 were uninjured. According to local news reports, attendees at the fair initially believed that the crash was part of a fireworks display, and was simply part of the celebration.
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