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Craft flies into Hooper crowd

HOOPER, Weber County — A crowd of hopeful children stared up at the sky with excited looks on their faces as a flying craft soared overhead to drop candy wrapped in sponges, but their expressions quickly turned to surprise and fear.

Instead of it flying straight above the annual Hooper Tomato Days festival Monday afternoon, the powered parachute, a type of rotor-powered plane, barely missed hitting a power line and shot into the nearly 300 children and parents standing in the open grassy field of Hooper Park.

Two young girls were flown by helicopter with possible head injuries and one with a broken leg to Primary Children's Medical Center in Salt Lake City, and four children and adults were transported from the park at 5500 South and 6100 West by ambulance to McKay-Dee Hospital and Ogden Regional Medical Center.

"I saw a girl get dragged by the wheel 20 feet," said Andrew Bingham, whose mother, Maureen, was injured by the powered parachute that crashed around 3 p.m. "I went to go help the girl. I didn't think my mom would be hurt. She was standing there one minute, and the next she was lying on the ground."

Maureen Bingham saw the west-bound parachute-type plane descending close to the crowd and thought the pilot was just trying to thrill the kids watching by dipping low, except he didn't rise back into the air.

"I heard afterward that one of the sponges got sucked into the engine and completely locked it," said Bingham, 50, who now sports a gash on her leg and feels sore "all over."

Instead, the plane lost control, plummeting into the crowd with the tires catching a couple people unaware before it "cart-wheeled" 20 feet on the field, hitting more children and adults on the way.

The powered parachute, also called an ultra-plane, resembles a go-cart with a large rotor fan attached to the back and a parachute on top. Weber County Sheriff's office Lt. Lonnie Eskelson said the plane retained power through the flight and unexpected descent and is not sure why it dropped. The incident was reported to the Federal Aviation Administration.

Lee Watts, a retired captain with the Roy Fire Department, saw the plane drop and immediately rushed onto the field to help injured victims. Two girls, 4 and 5-year-old sisters, were flown out, and the rest were transported by ambulance. The pilot and passenger were treated on scene for injuries and released.

Kari Craft watched from behind large inflatable slides and bouncers as the plane crashed and began running over when she heard screaming.

"I was afraid of what we would find on the other side," Craft, 49, said.

Witnesses said victims were scattered on the ground — all conscious — with nearby people running for ice packs and bandages to stop bleeding.

"I saw the dad of the two little girls run over and pick one of them up," said Madison Miles, 15, who watched from a distance. "Her leg was just dangling. It was so sad. They had just won the Hooper Tomato Days contest."

After injured adults and children were transported, officials eventually had the plane removed and festival organizers removed popcorn scattered on the ground and a pair of girl's shoes that lay in the field.

"We've never had something like this happen before," said Richard Hull, co-chairman of the festival committee.

The festival has been running for years, but the fly-over candy drop only started last year.

"It's just surreal," Craft said.

e-mail: lgroves@desnews.com