LAS CRUCES, N.M. (AP) — Federal safety investigators say an air ambulance got the wrong fuel at a New Mexico airport before it took off and crashed, killing all four people aboard.
A National Transportation Safety Board preliminary report says the twin-engine aircraft was refueled with 40 gallons of jet fuel instead of aviation gasoline at the Las Cruces airport on Aug. 27.
The plane was headed for Phoenix. All three crew members and one patient were killed.
The NTSB preliminary report issued Monday does not say whether the wrong fuel caused the crash.
However, it says a crew member called the dispatcher on a satellite telephone and reported they were returning because smoke was coming from the right engine.
Airport manager Cheryl Rodriguez didn't immediately return a call Tuesday.
The NTSB will issue a final report later on the crash.
The plane was registered to Elite Medical Air Transport, of El Paso, Texas, and was operated by Amigos Aviation Inc. of Harlingen, Texas, the NTSB said.
The preliminary report said the plane had turned and was still at a low altitude before it crashed and burst into flames.
After arriving at the Las Cruces airport, the pilot was in the cockpit when he told an airport technician he needed 40 gallons of fuel, the preliminary report said.
It said the technician refueled the plane and that the pilot helped the technician replace both wings' fuel caps before they walked into the office, where the pilot signed the machine-printed fuel ticket.
Investigators who arrived at the crash site a day later reported smelling jet fuel, the preliminary report said.
Crew members killed have been identified as 29-year-old pilot Freddy Martinez, 27-year-old flight paramedic Tauren Summers and 35-year-old flight nurse Monica Chavez, all from El Paso.
The patient was 59-year-old Fredrick Green, a Phoenix resident who was staying in Las Cruces while undergoing radiation treatment after surgery in Phoenix for a brain tumor. He was returning to Phoenix for further treatment.