3 Mississippi pilots die in crash on way to FAA safety conference

The three pilots had just taken off from the Hawkins Field Airport when the single-engine plane they were flying to a Federal Aviation Administration safety conference less than 30 miles away began to falter.

A Jackson police officer looked up in the sky and saw the Piper PA-32 "spitting and sputtering" like it was out of fuel. The plane's owner is a budding pilot whose own life was spared when he decided to go deer hunting instead of flying Tuesday afternoon.


WLBT reports that Michele Latham, who owns the plane with her husband Roger, identified two of the people on board as John Tilton Jr. and W.C. Young. She did not identify the third person but said all three men were pilots.

Roger Latham, who is 15 hours away from getting his pilot's license, told The Associated Press Tilton was his flight instructor.

"We had three great men who lost their lives," he added. "I just want to wake up in a while and say, `This didn't happen."'

Michele Latham told the station the men were traveling to a Federal Aviation Administration safety conference. The couple's daughter Emily said that her father was supposed to go on the trip as well, but changed his plans.

"He went hunting," she told WLBT. "Thank God."

One of the aviators asked for permission to return to the airport, but just minutes later the plane went down. It crashed through trees before slamming into a house that quickly caught fire.

A deputy fire chief told WJTV-TV that one person escaped the burning home with minor injuries.

The plane had just departed Hawkins Field Airport headed for Raymond, Mississippi, for the conference just 25 miles away. Roger Latham said his plane had been parked in a hangar for a month and they wanted to take it out for a short flight before he flew it to Gulf Shores, Alabama, for the Thanksgiving holiday. Latham said he had owned the plane for 2 1/2 years and described it as being in mint condition.

The plane took off at 5:10 p.m. and shortly after, the pilot asked for permission to return to the airport, according to a news release issued by the Jackson Municipal Airport Authority. The plane was unable to return and crashed.

Vivian Payne, who lives about six blocks from the crash site, said she heard a loud bang that sounded different from an electrical transformer blowing.

"It shook the walls of my house," Payne said as she stood among ambulances, police cars and fire trucks, their lights flashing in the chilly night air.

The National Transportation Safety Board along with the FAA will be investigating the cause of the crash.

A hospital spokesman says one patient from the scene was in good condition at University of Mississippi Medical Center. He would not give details citing privacy laws.

The Associated Press contributed to this report