A tattered American flag hung at half-staff Monday afternoon on a pole positioned in an industrial lot just east of the Ak-Chin Regional Airport runway.
“It represents how we feel right now,” said Paul Olson, who works at Sonora Wings, LLC, a hang gliding business that rents the lot on which the pole stands.
Tempe resident Mark Knight, owner of Sonora Wings, died Sunday evening when his fixed-wing single engine aircraft used to tug hang gliders fell from the sky and crashed into the dirt between the airport’s taxiway and runway.
The Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board are investigating the crash.
Knight was not pulling any gliders at the time, Olson said. It was the end of the day and the business owner wanted to take a ride.
“He was just flying for fun,” he said.
Olson said Sonora Wings has been in business for three years, but Knight, a certified flight instructor with thousands of hours flight time, had been flying since he was 18.
The Tempe resident was in his early 50s. He had a wife and an adult daughter.
Olson, who owns a hang gliding business in Wisconsin, worked with Knight for part of the year. He was at the airport Sunday when the plane went down.
He said Knight was about 300 feet above the ground flying the Sabrena Dragonfly aircraft, heading northwest over the airport when the aircraft’s “nose pointed up,” lost control and spiraled to the ground. The incident took place around 6 p.m.
“It’s too early to tell what went wrong,” Olson said, referring to the investigation.
A group of people nearby rushed to the scene when the plane went down and Olson called 911. He said Knight had a weak pulse and CPR was performed; the man died before an ambulance arrived.
Olson said Knight had not been drinking prior to his flight and had always been “very professional about that.”
Olson listed off the characteristics of the man he knew for three years: “very caring,” “very generous,” “very helpful” and loved by the hang gliding community.
Andrew Estes, owner of a flight instruction business housed near the airport next to Sonora Wings, said he and Knight used to share ideas and grab lunch and beer every once in a while.
Estes also described Knight as a “great guy.”
“It always happens to the good guys,” he said.