By Russ Niles, Editor-in-Chief
The weekend manager of a New Mexico airport questioned a Texas pilot's intention to take off in a heavy crosswind that may have contributed to his Mooney crashing and killing all four occupants, including his 13-year-old niece. "'Are you really going to try to fly in this weather?'" Angel Fire Airport manager Harvey Wright quoted his weekend manager as asking the pilot. "And his answer was, 'Yeah.' I guess he felt confident in his abilities in his skills, and in the plane." Wright made the comment to the San Antonio Express News. Pilot John Phillip Verhalen III, 33, of San Antonio, was killed along with his sister Sara Verhalen, 41, and niece Chloe Marie Jameson, 13, both from the Dallas area; and girlfriend Jennifer Woodward, 26 of San Antonio. Weather records indicate the crosswind far exceeded the demonstrated crosswind component in the POH.
According to Weather Underground there were sustained winds of 30-35 mph with gusts up to 50 mph directly across the runway when Verhalen took off. According to another witness, a gust seemed to cause a wing to dip shortly after takeoff and the aircraft crashed between the runway and a highway. Wright said Verhalen was the only pilot who attempted to fly on Sunday and added that local terrain makes the wind even trickier to handle. "We sit in a bowl," he said. "When the wind comes over the west ridge, it accelerates and tumbles and is hard for even experienced pilots to navigate."