Although cause unclear, campus mourns loss
A plane crash involving a university-owned Diamond Aircraft DA 20-C1 proved fatal in Payson on Wednesday, Nov. 17, at 1:08 p.m.
Jamie Bennee, a 34-year-old flight instructor and 25-year-old David Whitney, an Aviation student, were conducting a routine training flight, although it is unclear who was piloting at the time of the crash. Neither survived and an investigation by the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board is taking place.
Payson resident Jose Torres reported hearing “a big thud,” immediately followed by sirens. Two or three minutes later, he stepped outside to see emergency personnel already surrounding the plane crash two doors down the street from his home.
Across the street, 9-year-old Dalton Christensen and his classmates at Wilson Elementary heard a sound “just like a kabosh … like a bomb going off.” Principal Ron Penrod ran outside upon hearing of the accident and found police, firefighters and a plane that was “crinkled [and] bent in two.”
A man who passed by the scene of the accident commented that the plane “couldn’t have hit a better place.” It avoided hitting both the school and nearby homes, crashing instead on the front lawn and driveway of a home on 500 West between 400 and 500 South. There were no injuries or fatalities on the ground.
Candace Harris, a witness to the accident, told the Salt Lake Tribune that it appeared that the plane was doing “barrel rolls” before spinning nose down. Other eyewitness accounts state that it seemed the engine stopped before it spiraled out of control. Officials say that there was no radio contact with or distress calls from the plane, which departed from Provo Municipal Airport, immediately prior to the crash.
Upon hearing about the accident, President Matthew Holland sent a notification to the UVU community via email, stating, “I know that we all join together in offering our deepest condolences to the family and acquaintances of those whose lives were cut short today as well as our friends in the Aviation Science department.”
Similarly, Associate Vice President for University Marketing and Communications Chris Taylor said that this is “a terrible, terrible day for us” and that the school “has lost two family members.” He emphasized the close-knit community within the Aviation department, which has about 350 local students and around 1,700 participants nationally in its online program. There are eight full-time faculty and 52 adjunct faculty.
Among fellow students, Whitney was well-liked. Statements posted on his Facebook profile Wednesday evening described him as having a joyful personality and being a loyal friend. Bennee was a mother of two children, ages 18 months and 4 years, according to KSL.
Utah County sheriff Sgt. Lance Smith confirmed Wednesday afternoon that the two houses on either side of the plane crash were evacuated due to concerns about fuel remnants from the crash. He said they were hoping the families would be able to return to their homes that evening.
Principal Penrod explained that students at the elementary school were instructed to stay inside and they exited the school at the end of the day on the opposite side of the crash. No students were outside or witnessed the plane crash from inside, according to Penrod. Nebo School District sent crisis counselors on Thursday to meet with the school’s faculty and be available for students to speak with, should they feel the need.
The Aviation department has been a part of the university since 1987. Although students have logged 400,000 hours of flight time and the program currently averages about 30 flights a day, this is the first time there has been a fatal accident.
Additional reporting provided by Andrea Lindgren and David Self Newlin.