A pilot was killed Sunday when his private airplane crashed near Cataract Canyon.
The accident scene was located between 30 and 40 miles west of State Route 64, about one-half mile from the rim of Cataract Canyon and 21 miles out from Grand Canyon National Park Airport. The Coconino County Sheriff’s Office responded at 11:55 a.m.
Aaron Dick of the Coconino County Sheriff’s Office said the mud and bad weather made it a challenge to get to the scene. Dick responded with a patrol vehicle and later had trouble getting back out of the area. It was the third straight day of thunderstorms, which continued severely at times during the operation.
A National Park Service helicopter was first on the scene. Upon arrival, it was discovered that the pilot had not survived.
Positive identification of the victim had not been made as of Monday morning. Dick described the pilot as a man in his 50s. He was en route from Bullhead City to Liberal, Kan., and crashed in bad weather in an area known as Platinum Tank. The plane was a Beechcraft A-36 single-engine turbo prop.
There were no witnesses to the actual accident. Because of the poor weather, a Scenic Airlines plane changed its approach to the airport and happened to fly over the scene, noticing the aircraft on the ground.
"In the initial report, they (Scenic Airlines) thought they saw tracks leading away from the wreckage," Dick said. "They were concerned there was a survivor who had walked away."
As a result, law-enforcement officials responded with a search-and-rescue operation and set up a medic site on more stable ground near a ranch. However, one on scene, it was determined that the pilot was the only person on board, which was confirmed by the Federal Aviation Administration flight plan for the aircraft. The search was called off at about 1:40 p.m.
The crash reportedly left the airplane largely intact with no fire. The Tusayan Fire Department responded at noon and was part of the medic staging area. They were later called off when it was confirmed that the only person on board had been killed.
The man’s body was flown by helicopter to the staging area and from there, a mortuary picked him up.
The Coconino County Sheriff’s Office is the lead agency on the investigation. Besides the NPS, the Department of Public Safety also responded with a helicopter.
Coincidentally, those agencies along with the airport and others were part of a disaster drill last week which involved the crash of an airplane.
The National Transportation Safety Board will conduct an investigation to determine the cause of the accident.