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Small planes collide at Las Vegas airport, killing 4 people

North Las Vegas airport plane crash.{ }(Photo: KSNV)
North Las Vegas airport plane crash. (Photo: KSNV)
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Four people died Sunday after two small planes collided at North Las Vegas Airport, authorities said.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said a single-engine Piper PA-46 and a single-engine Cessna 172 collided around noon Sunday.

“Preliminary information indicates that the Piper PA-46 was preparing to land when it collided with the Cessna 172,” the FAA said in a statement. “The Piper crashed into ... a field east of Runway 30-Right and the Cessna fell into a water retention pond.”

Two people were in each plane and all four died, according to city fire department officials.

The names, ages and hometowns of the victims weren’t immediately released.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and FAA said their organizations would investigate the cause of the crash. On the FAA's website, both planes involved were identified; the Piper registered to a company in Tampa, Florida, and the Cessna registered to flight school Air Work Las Vegas in Henderson, Nevada. On Monday, the flight school released a statement on the crash, stating in part they were cooperating with the investigation.

"Yesterday was a very sad day for the Airwork family. Thank you to everyone who has reached out to us yesterday and today. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of those involved in yesterday's terrible accident. This world lost some great people & aviators," a Facebook post said. "We are currently cooperating with the FAA and NTSB to help them with their investigation. At this time, please refer any and all questions to the NTSB and FAA, as we will patiently wait for them to conduct the investigation and wait for them to issue a preliminary report of what may have caused this horrible tragedy."

Robert Katz, a 40-year commercial airline pilot and flight instructor, described the differences between the two aircraft.

“The Cessna 172 Skyhawk, which is a four-seat airplane, is considered a simple airplane used for training, personal use," he said while, "The Piper Malibu is the faster, more powerful airplane. It’s not typically what we use for training, it is typically personally owned."

He says the nature of the crash isn't very common.

"It is unusual for an air collision to occur anywhere," he said. "When it does happen, it’s usually due to a breakdown in communication or human performance somewhere."

Based on recordings on and public records available, Katz surmises there was a miscommunication between the controller and one of the pilots.

"I did not hear the tower controller advise, mention or warn the Malibu pilot the presence of the Skyhawk, suggesting to me the controller may have lost track," he said. "‘It appears to me – based on information available so far – that, in my opinion, the Malibu was cleared to land runway 30L, with the expectation that no other aircraft was in front of her, and simply her weight and speed overtook the Skyhawk from behind.”

Attorney and pilot Brock Ohlson was in those skies at the airport earlier that morning, taking pictures of the sky with his son.

"I can’t think of something I’d rather be doing more on a Sunday morning," he said.

As someone who has flown in that airport often, however, Ohlson believes several factors may have contributed to the crash. He says the size and shapes of the planes may have obstructed the view of the pilots.

"As [The Piper] is making a final turn, a base to the final turn, his view below is obstructed," he said, adding the student pilot in the other aircraft was likely "laser-focused" on the descent. While also listening to the ATC recordings, he believes the Piper also confused which runway was cleared for landing.

"That pilot in the Piper, in the midsized plane, he was told to land on 30L, but from all accounts that’s not what he did, he landed on 30R," he said. "The big error was that the big Piper was landing on the wrong runway.”

In the meantime, he says he's devastated for the families of those lost. "No other way to describe it than just an absolute tragedy," he said.

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The FAA and NTSB will release their preliminary investigation in the next few weeks.

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