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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

CdA pilot killed in Arizona plane crash

A Coeur d’Alene man who had become a popular pilot offering tours of the Grand Canyon died Wednesday when his single-engine plane apparently crashed into the side of a mountain in rugged northwestern Arizona canyon country.

Eric Carl Dvoracek, 28, had gone aloft on a routine weather run, officials with King Airelines, a tour company based in Henderson, Nev., near Las Vegas, said Thursday. He appears to have died instantly when his plane struck the side of a mountain and dropped into a canyon, officials with the Mohave County (Ariz.) Sheriff’s Office said after reaching the site Thursday.

The search had been stalled by darkness Wednesday, shortly after the wreckage was spotted from the air. The plane appeared to be completely destroyed, sheriff’s officials said.

“He was a great kid. He was very conscientious,” Dave Hoffman, general manager with King Airelines said Thursday evening. Hoffman said he had just finished talking with Dvoracek’s family – his brother Brent, sister Kristen, his father, Jim of Coeur d’Alene, and mother, Carla Jakobosky of Post Falls.

Dvoracek lived in Coeur d’Alene but attended high school in Spokane, graduating from Lewis and Clark and, later, from the University of Idaho with a degree in mechanical engineering.

“I told the family our thoughts and prayers are with them,” Hoffman said. “We lost a member of our family, too. Our pilots are devastated. These are all young kids just starting off. It’s a tough thing to deal with right out of the chute.”

Hoffman said the crash was the first since King Airelines began operating in 1986.

The tour companies are entry-level stepping stones for flight school graduates, Hoffman said, and typically pilots only stay six months or so – until they get enough hours in the air to qualify to fly for a larger carrier.

Dvoracek had graduated from Westwind School of Aeronautics in 2003 and stayed on as a flight instructor until moving on to King Airelines in April, Dvoracek’s parents said. He became known as a diligent and personable pilot and quickly became a favorite with co-workers and customers, Hoffman said. “He was one of our top pilots.”

Dvoracek volunteered to go aloft Wednesday morning on what company officials called a routine check of weather conditions in the Grand Canyon. Several tours were scheduled Wednesday, but Dvoracek didn’t have one until early afternoon.

“He went up a little after 9 a.m. He was alone in the plane,” a single-engine Cessna T-207, Hoffman said. “The area between Nevada and the Grand Canyon sometimes gets hit with clouds, rain and fog so we send up a scout plane.”

Basically, Dvoracek flew from the Henderson Executive Air Park about 30 miles southeast to Boulder City. There is a ridge there, Hoffman said, where pilots can peek over and get a view of the weather in the Grand Canyon.

“He told the Boulder City airport, ‘It’s a go.’ That was our last communication with him,” Hoffman said. Hoffman said no one became alarmed when Dvoracek didn’t return immediately to Henderson. Often, he said, the pilots who go up on the weather check take the opportunity to just go and fly for a little while. The job is seen as a nice break from the tours.

But as time passed with no word from Dvoracek, people began to worry and King Airelines put out the call of an overdue aircraft.

It is a mark of Dvoracek’s stature in the small community of tour pilots, Hoffman said, that, “All of our pilots went up to search. All the pilots from the other tour companies went up to search. Even pilots who were off came in to fly.

“He was well liked. It’s been a very, very hard time for everybody,” Hoffman said.

The wreckage of Dvoracek’s aircraft was spotted between 2:30 and 3 p.m., PST, Wednesday, Hoffman said.

“There were bits and pieces. There was really no fuselage. It looked like a big impact and an intense fire,” Hoffman said. Given the condition of the wreckage, the rugged terrain and the approaching darkness, ground rescue crews were called off Wednesday.

The wreck happened at the Mount Wilson Wilderness Area, but the plane did not strike Mount Wilson. It apparently struck another mountain and then “fell into a gap, a kind of mini-canyon,” Hoffman said.

Mohave County sheriff’s deputies, accompanied by investigators from the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board, flew by helicopter to the crash site Thursday morning. Searchers had to rappel down a steep canyon wall to reach the plane. It appeared there had been an intense fire, sheriff’s officials said.

Dvoracek’s remains were recovered and taken to the county coroner at Kingman, Ariz.

The cause of the crash has not been determined. The FAA and NTSB investigators said their preliminary findings would be available in about a week, Hoffman said.

The Cessna was among 17 twin-engine and single-engine aircraft flown by King Airelines.