Two couples are dead after the plane they were in crashed onto Interstate 5 in Northern Utah. The small plane crashed shortly after takeoff and numerous witnesses saw it careen into the ground before catching fire. An investigation into the tragedy, including whether the plane had mechanical issues, is underway.
Two Couples on Board Beechcraft Bonanza Were Bound for Yellowstone Airport
The plane crashed on July 26, 2017, at approximately 12:40 mountain daylight time, not long after the aircraft departed from Ogden-Hinckley Airport in Northern Utah. Two couples were on board, with a destination of Yellowstone Airport, where they were headed for a vacation.
The Beechcraft A36 Bonanza made it only half a mile before it crashed, killing all four people on board. It initially hit on the edge of the northbound lanes of I-5, but ended up in the median, against the guardrail. Debris scattered across both north and south lanes, with some traveling even further after being hit by a semi-truck. Witnesses reported a loud "explosion" and the plane caught fire after the collision.
Utah Highway Patrol (UHP) said that the section of the highway where the plane crash is busy, and that it was a miracle no cars were involved.
"Miraculously at the time, it seemed there was just a gap in the vehicles where it hit and came across…no other injuries sustained besides the four fatalities," Sgt. Todd Royce with the UHP said in a statement. "Our thoughts go out to the families. It’s a tragic, tragic, tragic incident."
A full investigation into the potential causes of the small plane crash will be conducted on the state level by the UHP and the Utah State Bureau of Investigation. Both the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) will also investigate the crash.
The UHP utilized a FARO 3-D scanner to capture data at the crash scene and has since given the images captured to the FAA for use in their investigation.
NTSB Issues Initial Report on Riverdale Plane Crash
The NTSB has issued their initial report on the crash, though a full report on the incident will likely take a year or more. The report says that at the time of the accident "visual meteorological conditions prevailed" and that a flight plan had not been filed (a flight plan under such occasions is not required).
Layne Clarke was piloting the plane and had been in communication with the air traffic control at Ogden-Hinckley Airport as he took off. News reports say Clarke had radioed the tower to confirm that he was ready for takeoff and that he wanted to revise his route to west, northwest to rise above some cloud cover. The NTSB report goes on to detail that an air traffic control recording from the Ogden-Hinckley tower captured Clarke saying “hey, I’m going down, zero-whiskey-bravo” not long after taking off.
The tower controller cleared Clarke for landing, but only four seconds later, according to the report, a pilot flying nearby saw Clarke's plane crash into I-5.
Here are the preliminary findings in the plane crash that killed 4 in northern Utah. https://t.co/L2802NOrph— East Idaho News (@EastIDNews) August 4, 2017
What Caused the Small Plane Crash?
The NTSB gave no cause for the plane crash in its report, but it did say that some general aviation mechanics who witnessed the incident heard the plane taking off and "the sound was unusual, which made them look up to see what it was." The same witnesses stated that the aircraft, on first view, was only about 100 feet off the ground, when it should have been 500 feet or higher by then. They described the sound in further detail as sounding like an underpowered engine and added that the tail of the airplane was going up and down, indicating Clarke was already struggling with the plane.
Witnesses Watch in Horror as Plane Crashes onto 1-5
There were over a dozen calls to 911 in the wake of the fatal crash. Most witnesses described a terrifying explosion and said that they knew almost instantly there was no chance of survival for anyone on board.
• "A plane just went down," one woman said, in tears. "I just watched it, I watched it go down."
• "It was a big black solid red ball of fire," Randy Paulson said. "There's no way you could've survived it."
• "It was completely out of control," Obdulio Ruiz, a truck driver who was traveling on I-5 and witnessed the crash, said. "I think they were trying to come down over the freeway, but they couldn't. They just crashed, and there was a ball of fire. I said 'Oh my God, it's going to kill me,' because I had flammables. It was so scary."
• "It was an immediate explosion," Kat Yoder, who witnessed the crash from a parking lot, remembered. "It was evident that there was not anything you could do for them."
Who Was on The Beechcraft Plane?
There were two couples on board the Beechcraft A36 Bonanza: The Clarkes and the Huffakers. Forty-eight-year-old Layne Clarke was piloting the plane, and according to friends, is an experienced private pilot. Clarke's wife, 46-year-old Diana Clarke was also on board, as were their friends, 45-year-old Perry Huffaker and his wife, 42-year-old Sarah Huffaker. All were Utah residents. Each couple leaves behind four children.
The Clarkes' children are believed to range in age from 16 to 21, but have not been identified beyond that. Layne Clarke's brother Corry Clarke was killed in 2002 when the plane he was flying as a passenger in crashed shortly after taking off from Ogden-Hinckley Airport. The incident bore eerie similarities to the July 26, 2017, crash.
Perry Huffaker was loved by the community and his friends. Justin Anderson, a close friend of Huffaker's, recalled Huffaker commenting that things happen for a reason not long before the crash.
"I had a conversation with him the other day where he told me, you know, 'We're not alone, and that things happen for a purpose and that God watches out over all of us," an emotional Anderson recounted. "And I think he would just want everyone to know that he's OK, he's with his love, and he'll miss seeing you for a while."
The Huffakers were also known as an incredibly family-driven couple, with four children, two of whom are serving LDS missions in Australia. A GoFundMe account has been set up to cover the funeral costs, and, as of August 23, 2017, it had raised $31,990 of its $30,000 goal.