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Federal investigation sheds light on Burley airport crash

Plane crash on roof of potato processing plant
National Transportation Safety Board
Pilot Brittney Infanger died when her plane crashed into a potato processing plant's exhaust stack on the path to the Burley airport's runway.

A federal investigation into a plane crash at the Burley airport is complete and says one likely cause of the fatal crash was the failure of a potato processing plant near the runway to mitigate hazards.

The final report by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) was issued more than two years after the crash on April 13, 2022. Pilot Brittney Infanger, of Salmon, died when her single-engine Cessna hit an exhaust stack on top of a potato plant while attempting to land at the runway.

Infanger was carrying cargo from Salt Lake City to the Burley Municipal Airport in snowy weather. When she reached Burley, she flew over the runway once, likely to check conditions. On her second pass, she crashed into a stack on the plant’s roof.

A witness saw the plane fly into a steam cloud from the stacks before crashing. The stack the plane hit was directly below the flight path to the runway.

Obstacles on flight path to Burley Municipal Airport
National Transportation Safety Board
Exhaust stacks at Gem State Processing line up with the approach to the Burley runway.

John Cox, an aviation safety expert, reviewed the NTSB report for Boise State Public Radio. He said it found two “causal” factors. First, the plane was flying too low.

“The airplane deviated from its intended flight path, so that’s going to come down on the pilot,” he said.

But the second causal factor, according to the report, was that the potato plant, owned by Gem State Processing LLC, didn’t paint the smokestacks in colors easily seen by pilots, which it had been instructed to do by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

“From the pilot's perspective, they would tend to blend into the background,” Cox said.

The FAA had warned in studies from 2016 and 2017 that the 100-foot-tall stacks on the plant were a hazard to planes and suggested fixes. But according to the NTSB report, the stacks were never painted an alternating bright white and “aviation orange,” as the FAA said was necessary for the stacks to no longer be a hazard to air navigation.

A final “contributing” problem, the report said, was the steam released from the plant, which made it hard to see the runway on the lightly snowy day. The hot steam from the stacks might’ve also caused Infanger to fly lower, Cox said.

The NTSB didn’t issue any recommendations to remedy the problems that could’ve caused the crash. A spokesperson for the agency said it doesn’t have any regulatory authority and directed questions about next steps to the FAA.

In response, the FAA said it offers guidance on marking and lighting structures, but doesn’t have any authority over them.

“The structure owner is responsible for following the marking and lighting guidance and local government agencies can enforce compliance,” a spokesperson wrote in an email.

Lawyers for Gem State LLC did not respond to a request for comment, and the Burley Municipal Airport remains open. The city declined to comment on the NTSB report, citing an ongoing lawsuit. Infanger’s family has filed a wrongful death suit against the city, the potato plant and other parties, with a trial scheduled for next February.

Find reporter Rachel Cohen on Twitter @racheld_cohen

Copyright 2024 Boise State Public Radio

I cover environmental issues, outdoor recreation and local news for Boise State Public Radio. Beyond reporting, I contribute to the station’s digital strategy efforts and enjoy thinking about how our work can best reach and serve our audience. The best part of my job is that I get to learn something new almost every day.

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