NTSB releases report on Virgin River Gorge plane crash

Plane crash upon a ledge in the Virgin River Gorge in the area of Interstate 15 at mile post 13.3 – 4.7 miles north of Littlefield, Arizona, July 20, 2014 | Photo courtesy of Arizona Highway Patrol Sgt. John T. Bottoms, St. George News

LITTLEFIELD, Arizona – The National Transportation Safety Board has posted its Aug. 1 report issuing preliminary findings into the plane crash in the Virgin River Gorge that claimed the lives of two brothers.

On July 20, brothers Daulton Whatcott, 19, and Jaxon Whatcott, 16, of Clinton, Utah, were heading to Las Vegas from Bountiful, Utah, for a basketball tournament when the Cessna 172K plane they were traveling in crashed in the Virgin River Gorge around 7:30 p.m., Utah time.

According to a preliminary report from the NTSB, the plane had stopped at an airport in Beaver, Utah, and was bound for the airport in Mesquite, Nevada. Daulton Whatcott, the pilot, wasn’t utilizing any air traffic control services before the crash, nor were any mechanical problems reported by family members who spoke with the boys before they left the Beaver Municipal Airport.

The crash occurred in the Virgin River Gorge, east of nearby Littlefield, Arizona. The boys are believed to have died on impact. The crash also triggered a small brush fire that was extinguished by emergency responders.

"We were watching the plane and made the comment that it was flying really low and it looked like they were  trying to get the plane stable," Dawn Brents said in an email. "The wind was gusting. … Maybe  a couple of minutes later we saw smoke around the corner when we were coming down the hill. When we rounded the corner we saw the plane in flames." plane crashed upon a ledge in the Virgin River Gorge, about 4.7 miles north of Littlefield, Arizona, July 20, 2014 | Photo by Dawn Brents, St. George News
“We were watching the plane and made the comment that it was flying really low and it looked like they were trying to get the plane stable,” Dawn Brents said in an email. “The wind was gusting. … Maybe a couple of minutes later we saw smoke around the corner when we were coming down the hill. When we rounded the corner we saw the plane in flames.” plane crashed upon a ledge in the Virgin River Gorge, about 4.7 miles north of Littlefield, Arizona, July 20, 2014 | Photo by Dawn Brents, St. George News

Concerning the crash, the NSTB report states:

The airplane impacted a canyon wall, about 100 feet above the Highway. Traveling southwest through the gorge along Highway 15 toward Mesquite, the steep-walled canyon turned left and then to the right, just prior to exiting the gorge onto an open high desert plain, east of Littlefield

The closest official weather reporting station to the accident site was at St. George Airport, about 20 miles east of the accident site. Observations taken between 1800 and 1900 showed that the temperature was in excess of 100 degrees F, and the winds were from 220 degrees true at 16 to 19 knots, with gusts to 23 knots.

A motorist traveling southwest bound on Highway 15 reported that the airplane passed low overhead in the canyon, traveling in the same direction as the motorist. The airplane made a left turn following the highway, and suddenly rolled inverted and impacted the canyon wall. The motorist said the conditions in the canyon were very windy.

The motorist’s comment echoed those of Dawn Brents, of Arkansas, who told St. George News via email that she and her husband saw the plane go down in the gorge.

“We were watching the plane and made the comment that it was flying really low and it looked like they were trying to get the plane stable,” Brents wrote in the email. “The wind was gusting …. Maybe a couple of minutes later we saw smoke around the corner when we were coming down the hill. When we rounded the corner we saw the plane in flames.”

According to Federal Aviation Administration flight regulations, the minimum safe flying altitude in an uncongested area is 500 feet above the surface. The Whatcotts’ plane was flying well below that altitude when the crash occurred.

As the NTSB report is preliminary, details may be subject to change as the investigation moves forward.

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Email: mkessler@stgnews.com

Twitter: @MoriKessler

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2014, all rights reserved.

 

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1 Comment

  • glider guy August 9, 2014 at 10:54 am

    Not the smartest idea flying IN the gorge, especially 100 feet above the interstate highway.

    Flying is rather safe but quite unforgiving when you do something foolish.

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