Investigators: Pilot error cause of fatal Nevada plane crash
LAS VEGAS (AP) — The pilot of a private aircraft that crashed north of Las Vegas in 2019, killing himself and two family members, was following directions of air traffic controllers at nearby Nellis Air Force Base before hitting a mountain, federal crash investigators said.
A final National Transportation Safety Board report posted Feb. 16 blamed the pilot, Gregory Akers, 60, of Henderson, for failing to maintain enough altitude before his single-engine Cirrus SR22 crashed while flying under visual control after dark.
Akers’ wife, Valeriya Slyzko, 48, and his mother-in-law, Nina Morovova, 71, also died in the Nov. 26, 2019, crash. The aircraft had departed from Lake Havasu City, Arizona, and was headed for North Las Vegas Airport.
The Las Vegas Review-Journal reported the NTSB findings Wednesday.
The board documented the flight path that Nellis air traffic controllers told Akers to take — into mountainous terrain about 15 miles (24 kilometers) north of Las Vegas — while they also managed the paths of four F-35 and then four F-22 fighter jets departing from the base.
The safety board did not blame the crash on Air Force personnel.
In a statement, officials at the 57th Wing operational unit at Nellis declined to comment about the report.
The statement said Nellis air traffic controllers are Federal Aviation Administration-certified and “adhere to the same standard of training and performance as all controllers throughout the National Airspace System.”
The Federal Aviation Administration said it does not supervise air traffic controllers at Nellis.
The air wing statement said controllers “seamlessly” coordinate with FAA controllers from Harry Reid International Airport and a Terminal Radar Approach Control facility in Las Vegas, as well as facilities in Salt Lake City, Los Angeles and Oakland, California, on flights into and out of the base and through Nellis airspace.
Nellis is best known internationally as host of periodic training exercises where U.S. and allied pilots conduct mock battles over a restricted military reserve in central Nevada that is half the size of the state of New Jersey.
The base also is home to the elite Thunderbirds flight demonstration team.
Akers was an experienced pilot and retired air traffic controller at the busy Las Vegas airport Harry Reid International and at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airports, the Review-Journal reported. He moved to the Las Vegas area in the mid-1990s.
Slyzko worked at a U.S. Postal Service processing office in Las Vegas.
The safety board said Akers contacted Nellis air traffic control 10 minutes before the crash to report his altitude was 6,500 feet. He acknowledged instructions during the following seven minutes as a controller “issued various heading changes to the pilot due to departing traffic” at Nellis.
Akers’ aircraft struck Gass Peak about 400 feet below the summit of 6,937 feet at 5:30 p.m., the NTSB report said.
“Contributing factors were the improper issuance of a suggested heading by air traffic control personnel, inadequate flight progress monitoring by radar departure control personnel, and failure of the radar controller to identify a hazardous condition and issue a safety alert,” the safety board said.