UPDATE: Tucson man dies when small plane crashes near Safford

UPDATE: Tucson man dies when small plane crashes near Safford
Delos “Dee” Echlin, a former USN aviator who flew in Vietnam, died when his plane went down near Safford Tuesday, June 9. (Source: National Archives)

TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - A Tucson man, a former Navy pilot who flew in Vietnam, died when his experimental plane went down near Safford Tuesday, June 9.

Delos “Dee”Echlin was flying a single-engine RV4 from Tucson to Safford when it went down.

According to the authorities, the 79-year-old Echlin was the only person onboard. The Eastern Arizona Courier reported Echlin did not make a mayday call before the crash.

At approximately 11:56 a.m., the Graham County Communications Center received a call from a citizen who saw what he believed to be a plane on a hillside that could be seen from Sanchez Road (east of Airport Road.)

Members of the Graham County Sheriff’s Office and Safford Police Department responded and located a yellow colored plane on the hillside south of the Airport. With the assistance of Air Vac and another citizen the wreckage was viewed from the air and a way to the plane was communicated to Law enforcement.

Law enforcement and EMT’s from Lifeline reached the crash and it was determined the pilot, and lone occupant, was deceased.

The Graham County Sheriff’s Office has learned the following:

The experimental two seater plane had taken off from Tucson International Airport between 7:30 and 8:15 a.m. on June 9.

An RV-4, which can seat two people in tandem, is a light homebuilt plane. You can see photos of it HERE.

According to two different sources, the plane was in the Safford area near the airport between 8:40 and 8:49 a.m. when it went off radar.

The Tucson Airport reported receiving no distress signal or broadcast, nor is there any indication Safford authorities received any type broadcast.

The NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board) and FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) were notified of the incident and the fatality.

Officials say Echlin often flew into the Safford area for the day and then returned to Tucson.

With the assistance of the Safford Fire Department and members of the Graham County Search and Rescue, Delos “Dee” Echlin was removed from the wreckage and taken to the Vining Funeral Home awaiting transport to the Pima County Medical Examiner’s Office for an autopsy.

It appeared the plane hit the hillside below where it came to rest and the plane skipped or continued upward on the hillside coming to rest approximately 20 yards below the top of the hillside (or Mesa.) The plane suffered extensive damage, but there was no fire from the impact. The plane was removed the morning of June 10, 2020 and taken to Phoenix to be inspected by NTSB and FAA investigators.

The cause of the crash is still under investigation.

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