Auto Dealer, Wife Killed In AZ Plane Crash; 2 Hurt

Published February 5, 2012 12:36AM (EST)

PHOENIX (AP) — A small plane crashed and burst into flames shortly after takeoff Saturday in an eastern Arizona mountain community, killing a well-known rural Arizona auto dealer and his wife and seriously injuring the couple's son and daughter-in-law.

The son was pulled from the burning plane by firefighters, while the daughter-in-law was found near the wreckage. Both were flown to Phoenix-area hospitals in critical condition.

The single-engine Cessna 206 crashed just before dawn and caught fire moments after taking off from the Show Low airport en route to Las Vegas.

The four onboard were affiliated with a series of automobile dealerships in eastern Arizona mountain towns, Show Low police Sgt. Shawn Roby said.

The dead were identified as Gerald Hatch and his wife, Ruth Hatch, of Snowflake-Taylor. Both were 66.

Gerald's 38-year-old son, Gunther "Rob" Hatch, was pulled from the flaming airplane by firefighters, Police Chief Jeffrey Smythe said. His 36-year-old wife, Mikelle "Kelly" Hatch, was outside the plane when firefighters arrived. She was badly burned and had a broken femur.

Gerald Hatch was the primary owner of dealerships in Show Low, Winslow and Snowflake, Smythe said. They included two Ford dealerships.

Rob Hatch also worked for the dealerships, as did other family members.

It was foggy and cold at the time of the wreck, but it wasn't known if that contributed to the crash, Smythe said. A Federal Aviation Administration investigator was at the crash site, and one from the National Transportation Safety Board was headed to the town about 150 miles northeast of Phoenix Saturday afternoon.

The loss will be felt through the small communities, Smythe said.

"Clearly they've been here for decades and decades in the Snowflake-Taylor area," Smythe said. "That's where they all lived primarily is Snowflake-Taylor, but as businessmen here in Show Low they were very well-known and well-respected, and it's going to be a big impact."

The police chief said Rob Hatch owed his life to the firefighters.

The battalion chief was first to arrive at the scene and used a hand-held fire extinguisher to keep the flames away from Rob Hatch while crews got a hose running, he said.

"They didn't know how much fuel was left in it, and yet they stood right there by that plane and extricated Rob and got him out and absolutely saved his life," Smythe said.

"Which is what they get paid to do, yeah, but I don't think the average person can recognize the idea of intentionally running up to a flame ball and dragging a person out to save their life, and that's what these guys did this morning."

By Salon Staff

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