Pilot was nearly out of fuel Patrick Parkinson Of the Record staff
Federal transportation investigators were still determining this week whether Thomas Mark Harmon, 50, had nearly run out of fuel before crashing his single-engine airplane in Summit County on Monday.
The pilot had switched to his reserve tank when the plane went down a few hundred feet east of U.S. 40, Summit County Sheriff Dave Edmunds said. Harmon was flying from Billings, Mont., to Spanish Fork to work at a power plant. He had repeatedly made the weekly commute in his Beechcraft 33 airplane since October, said Wanda Harmon, the victim’s wife.
"It just appears that he was wandering," Edmunds said. "I’m sure that weather played a huge role in this."
The Summit County Sheriff’s Office received several complaints early Monday afternoon about a low-flying airplane near Park City, he added.
Rescuers who visited the scene of the crash say scuff marks indicated that Harmon attempted to land his plane on a hillside near the Wasatch County line.
"It would appear that he was disoriented and tried to burn up more fuel than he anticipated," Edmunds said.
Federal Aviation Administration officials indicated that Harmon wasn’t instrument rated for flying in inclement weather, the sheriff said.
Harmon updated his certification as a private pilot in 2004, FAA spokesman Mike Fergus said. "His certificate is a commercial pilot and the rating is current he can haul people but he can’t do it for hire at night," Fergus said, adding that Harmon was required to wear protective lenses while flying. To drop below stormy conditions, Harmon was likely decreasing the plane’s altitude before he crashed, Edmunds speculated.
"Small aircraft in bad weather, they don’t mix," Edmunds said. "It’s a terrible tragedy I hate to even think of it really."
Harmon’s plane may have skidded for 100 feet before it came to rest in a grove of trees. A motorist on U.S. 40 spotted a section of the tail while looking for wildlife around 3:30 p.m. The tail, nose and right side of the plane’s fuselage sustained significant damage in the crash.
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Councilor Glenn Wright estimated that the ability to provide renewable energy sources for county power will cost the average Summit County resident $0.70 per year above current costs.