PHOENIX — Her voice cracking, the mother of an Arizona pilot burned keeping a blazing plane aloft as four skydivers jumped said her son was a hero who was relieved to later learn nobody else was injured.
Ryan Kilgore, who suffered burns before jumping from the plane that crashed into a house Saturday night, was in stable condition after surgery Tuesday at the Arizona Burn Center at Maricopa Integrated Health System, hospital spokesman Michael Murphy said.
The 31-year-old “was more concerned for others than himself during a crisis,” Jan and Bill Kilgore, of Spokane, Washington, said in a statement that Jan Kilgore read during a news briefing at the hospital.
“We are honored to call this pilot our son,” they said.
The parents left the briefing immediately after reading the statement, and Murphy said they’d asked that no additional information be released on their son’s injuries.
The four skydivers landed safely, and the Gilbert couple who lived in the home got out with their dogs after Kilgore’s plane crashed into the house, which was a total loss.
The Associated Press could not reach Sharon and Peter LeBeau, but they told some Phoenix-area media they were thankful for first responders and family and friends who had reached out to them.
“We are grateful to God to be alive,” said Sharon LeBeau, who lived in the home with her husband and dogs. “I’ve never seen so much compassion and kindness.”
Kilgore had radioed to say, “fire on the wing, fire in the airplane,” moments before he bailed out of the aircraft in a parachute.
A young man at a pool party said he heard a loud explosion and noticed the plane was headed in his direction.
Jesse Cagle-Villegas said he was in the swimming pool and felt doomed. But the plane never came; it made a sharp left.
“I never would have expected that in my wildest dreams,” Cagle-Villegas said.
Cagle-Villegas ran to the front yard and saw a parachute coming down to an empty field. His feet still wet and shoes untied, Cagle-Villegas ran toward the field, jumped over a brick wall and found Kilgore standing. Cagle-Villegas helped him walk to a house and called for help.
A National Transportation Safety Board investigator on Monday completed the on-scene portion of the agency’s investigation and a preliminary report on the crash is expected within a week or two, NTSB spokesman Keith Holloway said Tuesday.
The harrowing scene unfolded during what was supposed to be a thrilling pyrotechnic skydive jump at a local fair.
Seth Banda, a spokesman for Constitution Week, said the Arizona Skyhawks Parachute Team has been performing pyrotechnic skydiving at the fair for about three or four years. He said the skydivers completed their jump and landed at their intended spot as expected.
Pyrotechnic skydiving is a niche market and only about 40 or so people in the country do it, according to John Hart, one of the leaders of Team Fastrax, which performs all over the world. The pyrotechnics vary but shows generally involve skydivers strapping fireworks or sparks to their legs and then jumping out of planes.
Hart says pyrotechnic skydiving has grown in popularity over the past 15 years or so, and his team and others regularly perform at major sporting events, Fourth of July celebrations and in Europe and China.
But jumping with pyrotechnics comes at a high risk since parachutes are flammable. Usually sky divers have to take larger planes than normal and jump in groups of four to six from at least 12,000 feet in the air so that they can safely deploy their parachutes without catching fire, Hart said. The explosives are usually linked via Bluetooth so that only one of the sky divers has to deploy the pyrotechnics, which all go off at the same time, Hart said.
Hart said that some shows require divers to wear up to 100 pounds of fireworks on their legs. Jumpers are equipped with stainless steel plates and a flame-retardant blanket around their legs in case of an explosion. Jumping with fireworks also requires special licensing and training.
The website and Facebook page for the Arizona Skyhawks Parachute Team are down.
AP writer Josh Hoffner contributed to this report.