By PHILLIP RAWLS
An attorney for the owner of a plane in Jasper said Friday he never gave approval for a late-night flight that crashed and killed three teenagers.
Herbie Brewer, attorney for Jasper businessman Ray Whitworth, said the fatal flight Tuesday night was an unauthorized joy ride and that the 17-year-old student pilot was not trained to fly the twin-engine plane.
“This is the first time that young man had ever gotten in the plane, and he did it without Mr. Whitworth’s permission,” Brewer said in a phone interview.
The Piper PA 30 took off about 10:30 p.m. Tuesday from the Walker County Airport with skies overcast and clouds low. It crashed about a mile south of the airport, killing student pilot Jordan Smith of Jasper and two of his friends, Jordan Montgomery, 17, and Brandon Ary, 19, both of Arley.
Smith’s mother, Sherrie Smith, said Wednesday her son had flown the plane before and had the owner’s permission to be in it, but Brewer said that was incorrect. He said Whitworth took Smith for a flight about two years ago in another plane when the young man expressed interest in flying, but Smith had never used the twin-engine plane.
“He entered the airport and took the plane without permission,” the lawyer said.
Smith had been taking flying lessons at the airport, but Whitworth is not a flight instructor and had not given any lessons, Brewer said.
The plane was owned by HiFlight Aviation, which is a limited liability corporation Whitworth formed in 2010. The Federal Aviation Administration said its records show HiFlight Aviation bought the Piper PA 30 in May 2010. The company applied to the FAA for registration, but the application was returned to HiFlight in June 2010 for correction. The FAA said it received no response and canceled the registration that summer.
Brewer said Whitworth had brought the plane up to federal flight standards and planned to get it registered with the FAA.
The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the cause of the crash. Brewer said Whitworth is cooperating and has supplied plane records to the board.