A small plane crashed on a Utah highway Wednesday, killing two couples heading for a vacation but narrowly missing cars when it barreled across the lanes through a gap in traffic.
The plane went down shortly after takeoff from a municipal airport popular with private pilots north of Salt Lake City, Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Allen Kenitzer said. No injuries were reported on the ground after it snarled traffic and left behind blackened wreckage.
Layne Clarke, 48, was flying his wife and two friends as they departed for a vacation, said family friend and colleague Jeff Henderson. Clarke owned an automotive paint business and had gotten his pilot’s license about five years ago after a friend got him interested in aviation, he said.
Clarke was a “very energetic, wonderful man,” Henderson said.
Also killed in the crash was his wife, Diana Clarke, 46, of Taylor, Utah, and their friends Perry, 45, and Sarah Huffaker, 42, of West Haven, Utah, according to the Utah Department of Public Safety.
The FAA and the National Transportation Safety Administration are investigating the cause of the crash. It closed most lanes of Interstate 15 in Riverdale, about 35 miles north of Salt Lake City.
The Beech A36 Bonanza crashed about a half-mile from a nearby municipal airport. It hit on the edge of the interstate, went across the northbound lanes during an opening in traffic and landed in the median, Utah Highway Patrol Sgt. Todd Royce told the Standard-Examiner newspaper in Ogden.
It appeared the plane was out of control and the pilot was trying to land it on the interstate just before the crash, semitrailer driver Obdulio Ruiz told the newspaper.
Driver April Demetropolis was on her way to work when the plane crashed so close to her car that she felt the reverberation and heat from the explosion, the Deseret News reported.
“Out of nowhere from the east side, a plane came swooping in and just nose-dived into the middle of the freeway,” Demetropolis told the newspaper. “It exploded. The flames engulfed the entire street.”