Update: 2 die in crash at St. John Airport

Published 11:30 pm Friday, September 19, 2014

RESERVE – Two people, including a 13-year-old boy, are dead after an experimental, homemade aircraft malfunctioned late Sunday afternoon at St. John Airport in Reserve.

The St. John the Baptist Parish Sheriff’s Office said the victims were identified as Darren Mahler, 47, and a family friend, Payton Wilt, 13, both of Metairie.

Joey Murray, treasurer of the Port of South Louisiana — which owns and operates the airport, was one of the witnesses to the crash.

He said at approximately 5:20 p.m. Sunday a home-built gyrocopter, which he said looks like part helicopter and part airplane, took off at the airport.

Murray said the gyrocopter has top blades like a helicopter, and it was those blades that “started to fold” soon after take-off. Once the blades started to malfunction, Murray said, the gyrocopter descended rapidly into a drainage canal.

Emergency serves, including 911, fire services and the St. John the Baptist Parish Sheriff’s Office responded to the scene, where two males were pronounced dead.

The pilot of the gyrocopter, which Murray said was “not a standard utility craft aircraft,” had flown the device three of four times prior to Sunday at the airport. Murray said the craft was 300 feet in the air when the blades began to malfunction.

“It was very, very sad to see,” Murray said.

Vincent Caire, airport director, said Federal Aviation Administration officials will be in Reserve Monday to investigate the crash. He said the gyrocopter remains partially submerged in the drainage ditch.