SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — An off-duty sheriff's sergeant died Friday after doing barrel rolls that an experimental plane was not designed to withstand, the plane's manufacturer said.
Sgt. Jay Lessley, 40, of Mapleton, was killed on impact about 20 minutes after takeoff. A farmer found the wreckage in his field about a mile from the Spanish Fork Airport.
Lessley was a flight instructor who was testing a single-seat Skycraft SD1 for another owner, Tyler Ives, an owner of the company in Orem, Utah, told The Associated Press. Ives said he watched as the sergeant pushed the limits of the plane's capabilities.
"The first roll went well, but the second roll was faster, and at that point the pilot appeared to lose control of the airplane," Ives said. "We were all puzzled. Rolls are not something it was designed to do, and he was pushing the airplane faster than it should go. Not to take away from the fact that Jay was an excellent pilot."
Ives added, "He knew the limitations of the airplane, but he may have felt comfortable enough with the airplane that he did it anyway."
Authorities said they had not confirmed a cause for the crash.
Lessley is survived by a wife and 15-year-old son, Utah County Sheriff Jim Tracey said. His death came on the same day another Utah police officer was buried after a public funeral.
Derek Johnson was a 32-year-old sergeant for the Salt Lake City suburb of Draper who was gunned down Sunday by a transient man who also shot his girlfriend and himself, authorities said. Both are recovering at a hospital.
Lessley had worked for the Utah County Sheriff's Office since 2004 and was promoted to sergeant in 2011. He occasionally served as a pilot for the sheriff's department running search and rescue operations and extraditing prisoners.
He paid his own way through flight training, the sheriff said.
Spanish Fork is a city of 36,000 about 50 miles south of Salt Lake City.
Ives said the tiny $55,000 airplane that Lessley was flying was assembled in kit form, not at the factory. It was unknown if that was a factor in the crash, he said.
Lessley made no mention of plans for barrel rolls during a pre-flight briefing, and he didn't signal his intention in flight by radio, Ives said.
Company officials were on location to gather test data from the flight, he said.
"It's great airplane for pilots who want to log hours. It's affordable to fly, and incredibly fuel efficient. And it's a safe plane to fly as long as you stay in the correct envelope," Ives said. "Jay was close to all of us. We're really sad."
The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating.
Information from: The Daily Herald, http://www.heraldextra.com