SALT LAKE CITY – A plane crashed a mile from a backcountry airstrip in Utah, killing a pilot and two passengers whom authorities found dead early Thursday after an overnight search southwest of Canyonlands National Park, officials said.
The Utah Highway Patrol recovered the bodies of three men from the wreckage of a single-engine Cessna near the Dark Canyon Primitive Area, said Cpl. Todd Johnson.
The San Juan County Sheriff’s Office said it was not releasing the victims’ names pending a positive identification by the medical examiners.
People who knew the occupants said the pilot was a hired guide from Utah who was picked up by a Texas man and his father for a sightseeing tour of the southern Utah canyons.
The Federal Aviation Administration released a tail number that shows the plane was registered to Kyle Richardson of Midland, Texas.
His neighbor Marietta Metcalf told The Associated Press that he was a 28-year-old petroleum engineer. He was on a recreational trip with his father, Wade Richardson, a West Texas rancher from Ozona, said the Utah pilot’s employer.
The Richardsons flew into Price, Utah, on Wednesday and hired local pilot Larry Newby to serve as a guide for the backcountry tour, said Mark Francis, the pilot’s brother-in-law and owner of Redtail Aviation.
Newby worked for Redtail Aviation, and it was his portable GPS beacon that transmitted the plane’s last known coordinates, said Francis, who visited the remote crash site more than 200 miles south of Salt Lake City.
It wasn’t clear who was flying the plane – Newby and Kyle Richardson were both pilots, Francis said.
San Juan County deputies say they were certain the men died from the plane crash and not from any other cause.
A helicopter crew for the Utah Highway Patrol used the coordinates from the GPS beacon to recover the bodies about 4 a.m. Thursday, said Cpl. Todd Johnson.
The readings indicated the plane crashed at about 1:30 p.m. Wednesday.
Francis said it isn’t clear what brought the plane down. Investigators for the National Transportation Safety Board planned to visit the site today.
Newbie, 55, of Price, was a veteran pilot who worked part-time for Redtail Aviation for more than a dozen years.
“He was a good man and will be missed by a lot of people,” Francis said.
A person who answered the phone at a listing for Wade Richardson in Texas declined comment.
The Ozona Stockman reported Thursday that Wade Richardson was a Crockett County rancher and owner of several Dairy Queen restaurants in West Texas.
In Midland, Kyle Richardson’s neighbor said she was notified by their local police department that the father and son died in the crash.
“We are heartsick,” Metcalf said. “He was just an absolutely sharp, good-looking kid who had an amazing life ahead of him.”