3 pilots flying to safety meet die in Miss. crash

Associated Press Modified: November 14, 2012 at 6:01 am •  Published: November 14, 2012

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Three pilots flying together to a federal safety conference died when their single-engine plane faltered in midair and crashed into a house that went up in flames.

The three men had just taken off from Hawkins Field Airport in Jackson on Tuesday when a witness said the Piper PA-32 began "spitting and sputtering."

The witness, a Jackson police officer, saw the plane sputtering like it was out of fuel, he would later tell the plane's owner — a budding pilot whose own life was spared when he decided to go deer hunting instead of flying. The men on board were headed to a Federal Aviation Administration safety conference less than 30 miles away.

One of the aviators asked for permission to return to the airport, but just minutes later the plane went down. It crashed through trees before slamming into a house that quickly caught fire, sending long flames and black smoke through the neighborhood of modest single-family homes surrounded by magnolia and oak trees.

A deputy fire chief told WJTV-TV that one person escaped the burning home with minor injuries, but it was not immediately clear if anyone else was inside. One patient from the scene was in good condition at University of Mississippi Medical Center, spokesman Jack Mazurak said late Tuesday. He wouldn't give the person's name or gender or the extent of the injuries, citing privacy laws.

The plane was owned by Roger and Michele Latham, from Superior Pallet Company in Flowood, Miss., both of whom showed up at the crash site, along with their grown daughter, Emily Latham.

Emily Latham noted that her father was supposed to have been on board but changed his plans.

"He went hunting," she said. "Thank God."

Michele Latham said all three men on board were pilots. Roger Latham, who is 15 hours short of getting his pilot's license, identified one of the victims as John Edward Tilton Jr., his flight instructor.

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