PHOENIX - Two small planes collided in midair Wednesday, sending one crashing to the ground and killing a student pilot from China who was training to fly commercial planes, officials said.
One of the two students onboard a single-engine Cessna 150 was killed when it crashed after the collision above the town of Coolidge, FAA spokesman Ian Gregor said. The second student on board was airlifted to a hospital and had non-life-threatening injuries.
The pilot of the other plane, a single-engine Piper Cherokee, landed the craft safely in a nearby field. Neither the student nor the instructor on board was injured.
The Cessna, on its way to Tucson from Glendale, crashed upside down in a dirt field about 40 miles (64 kilometres) south of Phoenix without its right wing or tail. Coolidge resident Seth Johnson told KTVK-TV that he saw one of the two men on board the Cessna jump to his death from the aircraft when it was about 75 feet (23 metres) from the ground, while he said the other was talking after the crash.
Dee Pinkston, who owns Air Safety Flight Academy, the plane's operator, said the students on board were classmates and friends from China who were training to be airline pilots, and that he was able to visit the surviving student in the hospital.
"He remembers the aircraft getting hit from the rear and hearing a noise," he said. "He had no idea another aircraft had hit him. The next thing he realized he was waking up to a paramedic cutting his seatbelt off and telling him he did a fantastic job, and thank goodness he wore his seatbelt because it saved his life."
Pinkston said the student was a little swollen and had a minor back injury and a partially collapsed lung. "They're saying he will make a full recovery," he said.
"It's amazing," he said. "Literally half of the airplane is missing. How can an aircraft fall thousands of feet and land in the desert and have a student with such minor injuries?"
He said he believes the Piper hit the Cessna from the rear based on photos of the aircraft and talks with FAA officials and the surviving student. He declined to the name the students.
Gregor said no one on the ground was hurt. Inspectors with the FAA and National Transportation Safety board were investigating.
Christine Carson, general manager of Oxford Airline Training Center in Goodyear, Arizona, which owns the Piper, declined to comment but released a statement expressing her condolences to the student who was killed and hopes for a rapid recovery of the other student on the Cessna.