Records show Vegas stunt plane company had safety concerns

AP News
Posted: May 06, 2016 5:39 PM

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Before a recent stunt plane crash killed an instructor pilot and student passenger, records show that federal authorities had noted multiple safety issues on similar acrobatic flights offered by a Las Vegas tourism company that allows paying customers — even those without any previous flight experience — to fly and control planes.

Pilot Benjamin Anderson Soyars, 37, of Las Vegas, and Steve Anthony Peterson, a 32-year-old customer from Rohnert Park, California, died in the April 30 accident. The fixed-wing single-engine plane operated by Sky Combat Ace that they were flying in was found crashed in the area west of the dry lake beds near the town of Jean, about 30 miles south of Las Vegas.

The company, which also operates in San Diego, offers aerobatic, air combat and sightseeing flight experiences with package prices ranging from $150 to $2,000, according to its website. Its signature offering allows customers to fly stunt planes with instructors' supervision. The Federal Aviation Administration allows anyone to fly a plane as long as there is a licensed pilot alongside to provide instruction.

Following the recent crash, Sky Combat Ace's parent company, Vegas Extreme Adventures LLC, claimed that it had been "incident-free" in its five years in business.

But records from the FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board identified multiple related safety issues and incidents involving their planes in flight, though none involved injury. Its history was first reported by the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

The FAA on at least three occasions sought or took action against the company or its pilot based on complaints filed. Investigators cited safety violations and risky flight maneuvers.

One incident in March 2015 even involved the same Sky Combat Ace airplane that fatally crashed last week.

After the 2015 incident, the FAA moved to suspend the pilot license and instructor certification of Denis Richard Boissonneault. The agency said Boissonneault had flown in a "careless or reckless" manner that endangered life and property, according to an agency letter on the incident. The case is pending. Boissonneault, who is listed on the tourism company's website, couldn't be reached for comment.

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Sky Combat Ace is now prohibited from flying in formation after repeatedly flying too low to the ground. The waiver was suspended in June 2012 and then revoked in August 2012. The latter incident was reported near the Hoover Dam, according to the FAA.

In November 2014, a plane partially lost engine power as it was landing, substantially damaging the right wing. An NTSB report said the wing tanks were empty, although the center fuel tank was nearly full.

Another plane had to make an emergency landing at McCarran International Airport in October 2014. The pilot had lost control while performing a spin maneuver. A rudder cable had separated due to tension overstress, the NTSB said.

Company spokeswoman Megan Fazio didn't respond to questions about the company's "incident free" safety record claims before the recent fatal crash, saying only that there had been no incidents involving injury up to this point.