ROTAN, Texas (KXAN/AP) — An Austin man and a Burnet man died after a plane crash in Fisher County outside Rotan Friday afternoon. The two were on an aerial photography mission in west Texas, the National Transportation Safety Board said.
The Texas Department of Public Safety said the single-engine Cessna 172N plane struck power lines before crashing into the bottom of a canyon on a ranch northwest of Abilene.
The crash killed 33-year-old Dallas Lee McMahon of Austin and 38-year-old Jay Robert Leibson of Burnet. DPS said both men died at the scene. Their loved ones said they both died doing the work they loved: taking photos from the sky.
The bodies of both men were taken to Weathersby Funeral Home in Rotan, DPS said.
Fisher County Sheriff Alan Arnwine said it took authorities on an all-terrain vehicle nearly two hours to reach the site in a rugged area.
NTSB confirmed Leibson and McMahon’s plane departed from the airport in Spicewood, Texas, then landed safely and as planned in Midland. After the airplane departed from Midland, it flew up over Lubbock to get aerial photos. The plane was headed on its way back to Spicewood when it crashed near Rotan, about 100 miles southeast of Lubbock. Peter Knudson with the NTSB explained the plane struck powerlines that were 100 feet off the ground, coming to rest on steep, rugged terrain where it is still sitting. Knudson explained it will take work to remove the plane from that location, a task that is up to the insurance company to complete.
DPS reported that Leibson was the passenger and McMahon was the pilot when the plane crashed, but Leibson’s father Mark Leibson told KXAN that didn’t sound right, he believed that Jay was the pilot and the one who was always flying the plane while Dallas took photos. KXAN asked DPS again to confirm is Leibson was, in fact, the passenger, and officials referred us to the original press release but noted that the information is preliminary and subject to change.
Mark Leibson said his son Jay Robert lived in Spicewood with his wife and young daughter. Mark explained that Jay had been working for Aerophoto for 5 years, flying for aerial photography missions, and before that he worked as a flight instructor. At Aerophoto, Jay would often take photos of construction projects that were in progress, Mark said.
In the last few weeks, Mark even flew with Jay and Dallas.
“One thing about Jay Bob and Dallas was they both loved their job, they couldn’t get enough of it,” Mark Leibson recalled. The crash meant that Father’s Day was full of heartache for Leibson’s family.
“He was a very very good son, I’m very proud of him. He’s my only son,” Mark Leibson said.
Mark said Jay expressed concerns about mechanical problems on each of the planes he used. Mark recalled his son telling him that he wasn’t able to use the plane he usually liked to because it had hit a bird which left him using an older plane.
Online FAA records show that the plane which crashed Friday was a 1977 Cessna that has certification to fly until 2021.
Dallas McMahon lived in Austin, and according to his website, he was an avid photographer and graphic designer. A GoFundMe Page for McMahon describes him as “a brother, a son and a pillar to lean on in hard times.” Photos on his webpage show his love for photography and adventure.
The FAA and the NTSB are involved in this investigation, though the NTSB is leading it. Tony Molinaro with the FAA noted that all pilots are instructed to keep clear of potential obstacles such as power lines.
The NTSB sent one person out to Fisher County to investigate Saturday. He should have his notes completed by Monday. With this timeline, a preliminary report — laying out the key facts in the crash but not the cause — should be available online in the coming weeks. It will take between 12 to 24 months to complete the actual investigation into the cause, the NTSB said. They noted that things like airplane records and maintenance will all be considered in the investigation.