Grand County UHP
Up to eight are feared dead after a small airplane crashed and burned near the airport northwest of Moab just before 6 p.m. on Friday.

As many as eight people are feared dead following a fiery plane crash Friday near the Canyonlands Field Airport northwest of Moab.

Grand County Sheriff James Nyland said his office received a call just before 6 p.m. reporting a fire in an area about two miles west and one mile south of the airport. Two deputies were dispatched in a Utah Highway Patrol helicopter to investigate the fire report, which he said seemed unusual because the area has very little vegetation or any kind of fire fuel. When they arrived, they found the wreckage of an aircraft.

"Officers said the plane was completely engulfed in flames when they got to the scene," Nyland told the Deseret News late Friday. "We haven't been able to get close to it until just now."

Nyland said they are basing their estimate of fatalities, five to eight people, on what they can see and that the plane was still smoldering four hours after the accident. He said it would be "several hours" before any bodies could be recovered.

In addition to sheriff's deputies, the Moab Fire Department was on the scene as well as members of the Grand County Search and Rescue team.

Utah Highway Patrol pilot Terry Mercer flew the first Grand County deputies to the scene and spoke by phone late Friday from about 100 yards from the crash site. He said he could see a six-wheeled firefighting vehicle near the wreckage, as well as some four-wheel-drive vehicles. The closest graded road was about three-fourths of a mile from the scene. Mercer said from the direction the plane was traveling it appeared to have just left the airport.

"It's a very compact debris field," the trooper said. "You can see where the plane slid along the ground after impact."

Nyland said investigators had not been able to confirm whether the plane had made a stop at the airport but concurred with Mercer's assessment that it appeared the plane had just taken off, possibly after a refueling stop. Nyland said they still had no information regarding the origin of the plane or those on board.

The plane has been tentatively identified as a Beechcraft King Air, which has several models that seat eight people, but Nyland said that he was still waiting to confirm that Friday.

Deputies were on the scene throughout the night securing the area and expected National Transportation Safety Board investigators to be in Moab early today to begin their investigation.

Friday's crash is the third fatal plane accident in Utah in the past two weeks. Three Blanding men were killed Aug. 8 when their single-engine plane went down near the Monticello Airport. The next day, a Washington couple died in a single-engine plane that went down on a Bear Lake beach, near Garden City. Both crashes occurred during daylight hours in good weather, and final NTSB reports on possible causes in these incidents have not been completed.

On Aug. 10, two planes collided about 50 miles north of the Wyoming-Utah border in Rock Springs, leaving three people dead.


E-mail: araymond@desnews.com