Young Eagles crash kills three

Three people taking part in a Young Eagles rally in Washington State died Oct. 15 in the crash of a Piper Cherokee. It was the first fatal accident in the 13-year history of the Young Eagles program.

Pilot David Hokanson, Kandyce Cowart, 14, and Brittany Boatright, 15, were killed shortly after takeoff from Snohomish County Airport/Paine Field (PAE) in Everett.

The girls, who were freshmen at Seattle’s Aviation High School, were among 80 students taking part in the Young Eagles event. The plan was for the students and pilots to launch from King County International Airport/Boeing Field (BFI) and fly to Paine Field some 20 miles away. The pilots were to land at Paine Field to allow students to switch seats so that they each got a chance to ride in the front seat.

According to Jim Struhsaker, an NTSB investigator, it appears that Hokanson’s Cherokee touched down on the 3,000 x 75-foot runway, then the left main wheel went off the pavement.

“The evidence suggests the pilot made corrections, but the aircraft continued parallel to the runway and went across taxiway Foxtrot 2, then rotated,” he said. “It appears that the pilot hit a taxiway sign, then attempted a go around.”

Witnesses said the aircraft struggled to gain altitude. The right wing struck a tree and the aircraft pitched down suddenly. The Cherokee came down nose-first in a lot in a residential area, then burst into flames.

The accident sent a ripple of shock through the aviation community. In addition to prayers for the families of the victims, there was concern that the crash might prompt EAA to suspend the Young Eagles program.

“Just the opposite. We’ve been hearing from all over the country that we need to keep the program alive,” said Steve Buss, executive director. He added the group has been part of the NTSB investigation, and that “If they do come up with any suggestions for safety improvements, we will, of course, look at them, but as of right now everything is the way it has been.”

EAA officials note that there have been more than 1.2 million flights since the Young Eagles program was created in 1992. This was the first accident.

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