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Skydive pilot called tower to report 'fire on the wing'

Posted at 2:45 PM, Sep 19, 2016
and last updated 2016-09-20 14:06:36-04

The pilot of a burning skydiving plane that crashed into a home in a Phoenix suburb Saturday has been identified by a relative as Ryan Kilgore.

"We are very thankful," said Colton Kilgore about his brother Ryan's survival. He says his brother remained in the hospital Monday evening. "It's a miracle no one on the ground was injured."

The harrowing scene unfolded Saturday during what was supposed to be a thrilling pyrotechnic skydive jump at a town fair. 

Four skydivers jumped from the plane, landing as planned during a fair at a city facility about a half-mile away from where the plane crashed, Gilbert Fire and Rescue Capt. Josh Ehrman said. 

After the plane erupted in flames, the pilot donned a parachute and bailed out of the single-engine Cessna, landing in a field, Ehrman said.   

Ehrman said he didn't have other details on what happened in the plane, including whether the skydivers left the plane before or after the fire started.

At one point, the pilot of a burning plane radioed an air traffic control tower to say, "fire on the wing, fire in the airplane."

The tower operator asked him if he was able to land at nearby airports in Chandler and Mesa.

The operator is heard saying, "Roger, did you want to go to Chandler?" And then again, "844, did you want Chandler airport? It's at your three o'clock and two miles."

No one responded until a Southwest Airlines pilot informed the tower: "That plane went down."

VIDEO: Fireball, skydivers seen as plane crashes into Gilbert home

The plane's wreckage was removed Sunday from the crash site, and a National Transportation Safety Board spokesman said no information was immediately available on the cause.  A preliminary report on the crash should be issued within a week or two, said NTSB spokesman Keith Holloway.

But, one key question at the beginning of the investigation will center on the plane's maintenance records. NTSB investigators will want to see whether the plane had a current annual inspection and a 100 hour inspection. Both are required by federal law and kept by the owner of the plane.

FAA online records list the plane as being registered to P&T Aerial Services, LLC, a Chandler business. A woman listed as being a contact for the business did not immediately respond to a message sent via Facebook.

The plane plummeted into the home of  Sharon and Peter LeBeau, Somehow, they got out safely with no injuries -- and managed to take their pets with them. The Associated Press could not reach the LeBeaus, but they told some Phoenix-area media Monday they were thankful for first responders and family and friends who had reached out to them.

"We are grateful to God to be alive," said Sharon LeBeau, who lived in the home with her husband and dogs. "I've never seen so much compassion and kindness."

Erhman said the home was a total loss due to the impact and the ensuing fire

Seth Banda, a spokesman for Constitution Week, said the Arizona Skyhawks Parachute Team has been performing pyrotechnic skydiving at the fair for about three or four years. He said the skydivers completed their jump and landed at their intended spot as expected.

Pyrotechnic skydiving is a niche market and only about 40 or so people in the country do it, according to John Hart, one of the leaders of Team Fastrax, which performs all over the world. Jumping with pyrotechnics comes at a high risk since parachutes are flammable.

Hart said that some shows require divers to wear up to 100 pounds of fireworks on their legs. Jumpers are equipped with stainless steel plates and a flame-retardant blanket around their legs in case of an explosion. .

The website and Facebook page for the Arizona Skyhawks Parachute Team is down.

GoFundMe account has been created for the couple whose house was declared a total loss after the crash and fire. 

The family of the pilot has also set up a GoFundMe account to go towards medical expenses.