A man who was flying an ultralight across the country died Sunday afternoon after he crashed in rough terrain on the San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation.
Adam Schmitt, 50, of Birmingham, Ala., was flying along with his brother, Lee Schmitt, who was in a separate ultralight and who witnessed the crash.
The brothers had stopped at the Safford Regional Airport after flying in from Bisbee. An employee from Ponderosa Aviation drove the brothers into Safford to eat and stock up on supplies. The men then fueled up their ultralights and flew out toward Show Low, according to Graham County Undersheriff Jeff McCormies. Ida Hardy of Ponderosa Aviation corroborated McCormies' account and said the two ultralights took only 15 gallons of gas between them.
While en route to Show Low, the Adam's ultralight crashed at Ash Creek Flats near the Point of Pines area at about 1:45 p.m., according to Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Ian Gregor. The ultralight aircraft was identified as an Air Creation Tanarg powered parachute manufactured in 2005. The aircraft is classified as experimental and was powered by a 912 Rotax engine.
Lee saw the ultralight go down and called in a May Day, which was picked up by New Mexico authorities and relayed to Arizona authorities at about 2:06 p.m. Lee then attempted to land to assist his brother. An Arizona Department of Public Safety Ranger flew his helicopter to the scene and reported Adam died in the crash from what appeared to be head trauma.
While the crash happened in Graham County, the San Carlos Police Department handled the initial investigation since it took place on the reservation and San Carlos already had units in the area, according to McCormies. San Carlos and tribal Game & Fish officers secured the area along with the DPS ranger.
San Carlos Police Chief Alejandro Benally said one of his detectives escorted a FAA investigator to the site Monday. Investigators pored over the debris for most of the day, and the entire crash site was cleared as of Tuesday morning.
"It's just unfortunate, especially if the brother actually saw it happen," Benally said. "I imagine he'll be seeing that in his head."
The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the cause of the crash along with the FAA.