PHOENIX — Federal authorities investigating the crash of a small plane that killed two firefighters responding to a wildfire in northwestern Arizona included an account of the possibility that the aircraft’s left wing fell off, according to a preliminary report released Tuesday.
Air Tactical Group Supervisor Jeff Piechura, 62, and pilot Matthew Miller, 48, died in the July 10 crash of a Beechcraft King Air C-90 aircraft.
Arizona Bureau of Land Management officials said the turbo-prop plane went down as it was doing aerial reconnaissance and helping direct aviation resources over the lightning-caused Cedar Basin Fire burning outside Wikieup, a tiny Mohave County community about 123 miles northwest of Phoenix.
A Wikieup woman said she saw the plane going down at a steep angle before hitting the ground, according to the preliminary report. She and her husband later went to the crash site about a mile from their home and said BLM personnel told them they witnessed a wing fall off the plane in the air before it crashed.
BLM officials said they couldn’t confirm that information, however, and were leaving it to investigators to determine the cause of the crash, including whether the wing had fallen off before the plane hit the ground.
The plane crashed in mountainous desert terrain about 15 miles northeast of Wikieup and burst into flames with debris scattered over several acres, according to the National Transportation Safety Board’s preliminary report.
“The left wing was located about 0.79 miles northeast of the main wreckage and did not sustain thermal damage,” the NTSB report said. “No distress call from the airplane was overheard on the radio.”
Miller was a fire pilot with Falcon Executive Aviation, Inc, contracted by the U.S. Forest Service, while Piechura was an employee with the Coronado National Forest.
“Our hearts and most sincere condolences are with the families, friends and colleagues of both individuals lost in this tragic accident,” Raymond Suazo, BLM Arizona State director, said in a press release.
“This reminds us of the inherent risks involved in wildland firefighting and the gratitude we owe to the courageous and committed men and women who serve willingly to protect lives, communities and natural resources.”
The Cedar Basin Fire burned 734 acres before being fully contained five days after the crash, according to InciWeb.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.