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Pilot, dog killed as plane crashes near West Jordan elementary school

Published: Thursday, Sept. 15 2011 4:55 p.m. MDT

Investigators look over the wreckage of an airplane crash next to Columbia Elementary School in West Jordan Thursday, Sept. 15, 2011.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

WEST JORDAN — The pilot of a small plane died Thursday when he crashed on the grounds of Columbia Elementary School while children were outside at recess.

Randolph Flores, 60, of Palominas, Ariz., died after the plane hit the ground right next to the east side of the school at 3505 W. 7800 South about 12:20 p.m.

A dog traveling inside the plane with Flores was also killed during the crash. 

"What we know about the plane crash is the plane came in at a steep angle and a high rate of speed. It was very close to the building," said West Jordan Fire Battalion Chief Reed Scharman. "There was no injuries to anyone on the ground."

Scharman said Flores was survived by a son and a daughter who live in the Salt Lake Valley. 

"We believe he was coming to visit," he said. 

Chin Nguyen, who lives next door to the school, was in the computer room of her home when said she heard, "Boom — a very loud noise." Both she and her husband ran to different porches to see what had happened.

"My husband said he couldn't believe it. A plane crashed!"

She said there was no smoke or fire, just a crumpled plane with a broken wing. A few school administrators were in the parking lot and some children were at recess on the nearby playground when the crash occurred.

Scharman said there were no classrooms near where the plane hit the ground and the children who were outside were "a fair distance from the school." 

He confirmed that the pilot died on impact.

"I wondered how come nobody tried to rescue the person in the plane," Nguyen said. Not long after that, investigators put up a white sheet over part of the aircraft. 

"I felt so bad," Nguyen said. "It happened so fast."

The tail of the plane appeared to be less than a foot away from the school.

The school was put into lockdown after the accident, a school spokesman said. Parents were contacted and school remained in session for the full day. Parents were told to pick up their children on 7800 South, on the other side of the school from where the crash occurred.

Some parents, however, arrived at the school to take their children home.

"I'm going home because I'm scared," one young student said as she got into the car with her mother.

Adrina Chatwin's sixth-grade daughter was outside at recess and saw the plane come down. She called her mother from her cell phone.

"She saw it come down. She was crying hysterically saying, 'Come get me,'" Chatwin said. "It's really scary because my first thought was it's in the school, and a bunch of  kids could be injured or hurt."

Taralyn McConnehey, who has a second-grade student attending the school, said she panicked when she saw a number of police and fire vehicles heading toward the school. She said she tried to call the school but couldn't get through.

"My daughter gets so freaked out by the littlest things," she said.

School officials told the mother to come back at the end of the school day. McConnehey said she is worried about how the incident may have affected her daughter.

"I'm very concerned. It's been very nerve-wracking," she said.

Investigators do not yet know what caused the crash. The pilot's last contact was with an operator on an advisory channel, which is used to coordinate landings at South Valley Regional Airport, Scharman said. He did not know when that contact was made. 

West Jordan police will conduct an investigation with the National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration. Officials were relieved that there were no additional injuries. 

"It's an unfortunate thing to have a plane come down, but we're happy it went down where it did," Scharman said.

A school carnival scheduled for Thursday night was rescheduled until next week because of the crash.

Steve Dunham of the Jordan School District said classes will continue as normal on Friday and a Crisis Intervention Team will be at the school for anyone who may need to talk about the plane crash.

E-mail: emorgan@desnews.com Twitter: DNewsCrimeTeam

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