Johnson was the pilot of the plane, which was licensed to Northern Electric in Blanding. The accident occurred at approximately 7 a.m. Friday morning. No eyewitnesses to the accident have come forward, but a number of people saw the plane in the moments leading up to the accident.
Some witnesses report that the plane was flying low toward the south and made a tight sweeping turn before disappearing under the horizon. It appears as if a wingtip or wheel may have caught in the soft dirt near the top of a hill. The right wing of the aircraft was sheared off in the accident.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) led a team that investigated the accident. They arrived on Saturday and were at the site of the accident through Monday. The team will release a preliminary report this week and a final report in six to 12 months.
The team of four investigators includes officials from the NTSB, Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the airplane manufacturer and the engine manufacturer.
Joshua Cawthra, of the NTSB, would not conjecture what happened in the accident, but did state that witnesses heard the engine running at the time of the accident. Cawthra said that the team will investigate all of the components of the accident, including the pilot, the terrain, the equipment, and the weather conditions.
While it was stormy on August 8, it was not raining at the time of the accident.
The three men were friends and hunting enthusiasts who apparently were spotting deer and elk in anticipation of the hunting season. It is not illegal to spot wildlife from the air in the weeks leading up to the hunting season.
The community of Blanding lost three pillars in the accident. They were successful businessmen, community leaders, church leaders, husbands and fathers.
Bayles and Johnson were currently serving on the Blanding City Council, while Acton had previously served on the City Council.
Johnson was an active supporter of community youth programs and traveled to Salt Lake City in the airplane the day before the accident in support of a proposed community wellness center. The Utah Community Impact Board approved a $4 million loan for the facility on August 11.
Eric Johnson, age 36, is an owner of Northern Electric, a Blanding-based electrical contractor. He is the father of four young children. Johnson’s father, Bruce Johnson, was killed in an airplane accident while spotting wildlife in September, 2000.
Brian Bayles, age 33, is the owner of the Patio Drive-In in Blanding. He was renowned for his friendly, upbeat attitude and ability to help people in need. He is the father of four young children.
Kim Acton, age 51, was in the restaurant business throughout his career, first as the owner of the Elk Ridge Café and then as the representative of Sysco Foods to area restaurants. A former LDS Bishop, Acton is the father of five children, including a son currently serving an LDS mission.
All three men were members of the Blanding Sixth Ward of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Douglas LeCheminant, a grief councilor with LDS Social Services, spoke at the Sixth Ward Sacrament meeting on August 10, along with Stake President Lem Redd.
Funeral services will take place at noon on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at the Blanding LDS Stake Center, 100 West 800 North. Services for Eric Johnson will be on Tuesday, August 12. Services for Kim Acton will be Wednesday, August 13. Services for Brian Bayles will be Thursday, August 14.
Viewings will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. the evening before each funeral and from 9 to 11 a.m. the morning of each funeral at the San Juan Mortuary, 370 South Main Street.
Accounts for the families of the deceased men have been set up at local banks and donations are being accepted.