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Kristin Murphy, KSL

Pilot lost control in 2017 Riverdale plane crash that killed 4, but NTSB investigators aren’t sure why

By Lauren Bennett, KSL.com | Posted - Nov. 12, 2019 at 5:49 p.m.



SALT LAKE CITY — The pilot of an airplane that crashed and killed four in 2017 lost control during takeoff, but investigators don’t know why, a National Transportation Safety Board report released last week shows.

The crash killed two Utah couples; pilot Layne Clarke, 48 and his wife Diana Clarke, 46, both of Taylor. Perry and Sarah Huffaker, ages 45 and 42, of West Haven, also died in the accident.

On July 26, 2017, abut 12:40 p.m., the airplane crashed onto I-15 after departing moments earlier from Ogden-Hinckley Airport. The plane crashed about one half-mile from the airport, officials said.

Some witnesses told investigators the airplane's engine sounded “underpowered” and the tail was moving up and down, “as if the pilot was struggling to keep the airplane airborne,” the report noted.

After “detailed examination,” investigators found no mechanical deficiencies in the airplane, engine and propeller that would’ve “precluded normal operation,” the report states.

Due to the lack of anomalies found by investigators, “it is unlikely that the pilot experienced a loss of engine power or mechanical failure during the takeoff; therefore, the reason for the pilot's loss of control shortly after takeoff could not be determined,” the report states.

The pilot, later identified as Layne Clarke, reported to air traffic controllers the plane was going down.

Toxicology reports show Clarke tested negative for drugs, carbon monoxide and volatiles. His cause of death was reported by the Taylorsville Medical Examiner Office as multiple blunt and thermal injuries.

Clarke held a private pilot certificate and had logged a total of 396 flight hours, with 196 hours in the airplane that crashed, the report stated.

In the six months before the accident, Clarke had logged about 28 flight hours, 26 of which were in the airplane that crashed.

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The Beech A36 Bonanza airplane was manufactured in 1981 and was purchased in May 2014, the report noted.

Maintenance records show the plane’s most recent annual inspection was just two months before the crash.

At the time of takeoff, the plane was close to its maximum weight, when the weights of the pilot, passengers and fuel onboard were considered, investigators said in the report.

“The pilot chose to operate the airplane under conditions which would have adversely affected its performance, namely, high gross weight, high density altitude, and with a (center of gravity) that may have been forward of prescribed limits,” the report states. “Whether the pilot calculated the airplane's weight and balance before the flight and was prepared for the resulting negative effects on its takeoff performance could not be determined.”

The report was published on Nov. 6, about 2.5 years after the crash.

Earlier this year, the family of Perry and Sarah Huffaker filed a lawsuit against Eagle Fuel Cells of Eagle River, Wisconsin, alleging faulty manufacture and operation of a fuel bladder in the plane.

The case was later transferred to the U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City and was dismissed in October without prejudice over a jurisdiction issue, the Standard Examiner reported.

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