It appears that the plane had just lifted off from a small backcountry air field just outside of the Dark Canyon wilderness area. After liftoff, the plane flew east but soon crashed for unknown reasons approximately one mile from the air strip. —San Juan County Sheriff's Office
KSL Radio interview with San Juan County Sheriff Rick Eldredge
PRICE — The short bio on Redtail Aviation's website for Larry Newby says he started flying over the scenic landscape of southeastern Utah "before history was written."
"There isn't a ridge, butte or canyon that Newby hasn't flown over," the bio reads.
That's the way friends and family remembered the veteran pilot Thursday — as a consumate professional with a wealth of knowledge about the region and a passion for sharing it.
Newby, who turned 55 last week, was killed along with a father and son from Texas in a plane crash Wednesday in an extremely remote area near the Four Corners region.
"Even people who have flown a one-hour flight with him remember him forever because he knows everything about everything in the area," said Chris Francis, Newby's brother-in-law and boss at Redtail Aviation.
"He loved, absolutely loved this desert southwest country that he flies in," said Francis, who recalled that whenever Newby walked through the door, "the place lit up around him."
"I don't know how we're going to cope without him," he said. "He's a fantastic guy."
The trio had left Price Wednesday morning for a day trip, according to Francis. They were expected to return before nightfall.
But the Cessna 185 single-engine aircraft they were flying in went missing about 1:30 p.m., shortly after taking off from a backcountry airfield in the rugged Dark Canyon Wilderness Area, a region known for its steep mountain walls. The plane did not belong to Redtail's fleet.
Francis contacted the San Juan County Sheriff's Office about 8:30 p.m. Wednesday after realizing that an emergency beacon Newby was carrying had been in the same location for several hours.
Using a Department of Public Safety helicopter, sheriff's deputies and the Utah Highway Patrol flew to the plane's last known coordinates and discovered the crash site about 2 a.m. Thursday, said San Juan County Sheriff Rick Eldredge.
"It appears that the plane had just lifted off from a small backcountry airfield just outside the Dark Canyon Wilderness Area. And after liftoff the plane flew east, and as to why it crashed, we still do not know," the sheriff said.
It appeared that the plane exploded on impact with a sandstone cliff face, Eldredge said.
"Upon approaching the crash scene from the air, we could see flames still in the surrounding area — trees and brush that were on fire," he said. "The plane itself had burned, but had cooled off by the time we arrived."
None of the men survived. Their bodies were recovered about 4 a.m. with use of the DPS helicopter. It would have been nearly impossible to get to them on the ground, Eldredge said.
"To try and access it by foot would be painstaking and very lengthy," he said. "The only way to access this is by horseback or by foot, and it's just very rugged, steep canyons."
The Federal Aviation Administration released a tail number that shows the plane was registered to Kyle Richardson of Midland, Texas. No phone listing could be found for Richardson. Neighbors in Midland told The Associated Press that Richardson is a 28-year-old petroleum engineer. The Ozona Stockman's website reports that Richardson's father, Wade Richardson, from Ozona, Texas, was also on the plane.
Eldredge said authorities are "99-percent sure" who the victims are, but are awaiting positive identification by the Utah State Medical Examiner's Office before releasing any names.
It remains unclear which one of the three men was piloting the plane when it crashed, the sheriff said.
The FAA and National Transportation Safety Board are investigating the crash.
Francis went to the area of the crash Thursday, but still can't understand what happened.
"I went to the site this morning," he said. "There are no answers there for me."