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Witness heard experimental plane ‘backfiring’ before fatal crash in Centerville, report says

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A South Davis Metro firefighter works at the scene of plane crash that started a brush fire near Legacy Parkway in Centerville on Thursday, June 25, 2020. Bystanders who were traveling on Legacy Parkway pulled two people from the burning plane, who later died from their injuries.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — A preliminary report released Monday details the moments leading up to a fiery plane crash that killed two men in Centerville last month, including reports from witnesses the plane was making a “backfiring” noise and later “nosedived” to the ground.

On June 25, Andre Kostrzewa, 72, of Salt Lake City, and Jason Sorensen, 47, of Layton took off from Skypark Airport in Bountiful in a Sonex Light Sport “experimental amateur-built airplane,” according to the report by the National Transportation Safety Board.

The flight tracking application FlightAware indicated the two-seater plane was last seen in Bountiful at 12:10 p.m. The NTSB report states it was supposed to land back at Skypark.

But at 12:54, the plane crashed west of the Legacy Parkway, igniting a small brush fire that officials say burned roughly 10 acres. The exact cause of the crash has not yet been released.

Despite the flames, two bystanders pulled Kostrzewa and Sorensen from the wreckage, and they were flown to the University of Utah Hospital.

Kostrzewa was pronounced dead at the hospital, and Sorensen, who was listed as the plane’s operator, died four days later.

Prior to the crash, a Centerville resident roughly 3 miles northwest of the accident site told investigators he saw the plane flying “at a normal altitude” when he heard an unusual “backfiring” noise.

A second witness told investigators that as he was driving southbound on a nearby highway, he saw the plane only 100 feet above the ground when it made “a hard banking turn to the right ... then nosedived into the ground where it burst into flames,” the report reads.

A Federal Aviation Administration inspector who responded to the scene reported the engine detached from the plane during the crash, and both the cabin and cockpit of the Sonex had been consumed in flames, according to the report.

“The airplane had impacted an open field with its right wing before it came to rest upright on a fence about 30 yards north of the initial impact site,” the report reads.

In a tragic twist, Sorensen, a recently retired Davis County sheriff’s lieutenant and paramedic for Intermountain Life Flight, was transported to the hospital by colleagues he normally works alongside.

“They learned his identity when they began rescue (efforts), and they were just completely amazingly professional,” said Jess Gomez, media relations director for Intermountain Healthcare.

“Sorensen spent his life saving others and his efforts will continue after life, with the donation of his organs to others in need,” the Davis County Sheriff’s Office said in a prepared statement.

An obituary for Kostrzewa remembers him as a Polish native and “an outspoken activist against the communist regime” who immigrated to the U.S. as a political refugee. According to the obituary, Kostrzewa built planes in his garage as a hobby, eventually completing two separate single-engine experimental airplanes, “the latter of which claimed his life.”