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2 die as World War II-era plane crashes in Arizona

By Martin Smith
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2 die as World War II-era plane crashes in Arizona
An AT-6C-NT trainer in flight near Luke Field, Ariz., in 1943. Just outside Phoenix, Luke Field later became Luke Air Force Base. An AT-6 similar to this one crashed on takeoff from Falcon Field in Mesa, Ariz. USAF/UPI

MESA, Ariz., May 18 (UPI) -- A pilot and his passenger are dead after a small plane crashed onto a road near Phoenix on Tuesday evening.

Emergency crews were called at about 6:30 p.m.when the World War II-era aircraft crashed and caught fire while trying to take off from Mesa's Falcon Field airport.

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Deputy Chief Forrest Smith, of the Mesa Fire Department, said witnesses saw an explosion when the plane went down shortly after takeoff.

Wreckage was strewn across a road which runs along the runway perimeter.

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Detective Steve Berry told 12 News: "We're right in the middle of a major roadway here in Mesa and certainly, never to minimize the tragedy, but obviously you could imagine if this had, say, hit another carload of people or bus or something of that nature."

A dust storm was moving through the area Tuesday evening, but authorities said it was unclear if weather was a factor in the crash.

The single-engine AT-6 trainer was believed to have been built in 1942. The model has been used as a training plane in the decades since.

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Falcon Field was founded in 1941 as a training base for British pilots during World War II. Today, the city of Mesa owns and operates the airport, where student pilots train. It's one of the busiest general-aviation airports in the United States, logging some 200,000 takeoffs and landings annually

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The airport is also home to the Falcon Warbirds, a group that memorializes pilots and veterans who have passed away by doing flyovers in the "Missing Man" formation.

And while the as-yet-unnamed victims did not belong to the Warbirds, group member Dick Stich was shaken by the deadly crash.

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"I'm sick to my stomach that we lost guys from Falcon Field," said Stich, a retired U.S. Air Force pilot. "Our group will offer anything we can do to help those guys out. We're friends, comrades."

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