Six people were killed when a Piper airplane crashed on the TPC Scottsdale golf course. Eliott Simpson, an aviation accident investigator with the NTSB, speaks about the crash on April 10, 2018. Tom Tingle/azcentral.com
PHOENIX — The six people who died when a Las Vegas-bound plane crashed onto a Scottsdale golf course Monday and burst into flames ranged in age from 22 to 28, officials announced Wednesday.
The Scottsdale Police Department identified those killed as Erik Valente, 26; James Louis Pedroza, 28; Mariah Sunshine Coogan, 23; Anand Anil Patel, 28; Helena Lagos, 22; and Iris Carolina Rodriguez Garcia, 23.
Final medical examiner results are pending that will determine exactly how each died.
Additional details about the crash’s cause have not yet been officially released.
Valente was certified as an airline transport pilot, most recently on March 15, according to FAA records. He was also certified as a flight instructor.
He worked part time as an instructor for All in Aviation, a Cirrus flight school based in Las Vegas.
He was not working for the company at the time of the crash, Paul Sallach, president of All in Aviation, told The Arizona Republic on Wednesday.
Valente started flight training at age 16 and became a private pilot before graduating from high school. He attended the University of North Dakota, where he majored in aviation management and went on to manage a separate flight school in Las Vegas, according to an online profile.
He earned more certifications and accrued more than 4,500 hours of flight experience, including 2,500 hours of instruction in more than 40 different kinds of aircraft. Recently, he flew corporate jets around the world, and he wrote frequently about flying up and down the West Coast.
Sallach has known Valente for about 10 years and described him as a true professional, among the most respected pilots and flight instructors in the West.
Though the crash had nothing to do with Sallach’s business, he has wondered what possibly could have gone so wrong on the return trip to Las Vegas.
“This certainly wasn’t due to lack of experience,” Sallach told The Republic. “I’m scratching my head at what the hell happened.”
Like seemingly everyone aboard the plane Monday night, Valente lived an active lifestyle and enjoyed traveling.
Pedroza recently became interested in flying and posted photos on social media of him with the plane that crashed Monday.
Authorities have not yet said who was piloting Piper PA-24 Comanche when it crashed Monday.
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Lagos was a part-time Las Vegas fashion model who excelled in high school and college and had big plans for her future, longtime friend Katelyn Putman wrote Wednesday in comments to The Republic.
She and Pedroza were dating, Putman said.
Lagos participated in DECA, a not-for-profit group that teaches young people nationwide about business planning, marketing and finance. She went on to pursue entrepreneurship opportunities in college and recently started her own business, Rebel Fruits LLC, according to Nevada records.
“She always had bright ideas and was confident in everything she did,” Putman wrote. “She was going to do amazing things. … She will be sorely missed, and the world is darker without her.”
The Las Vegas Review-Journal newspaper featured her in a 2013 story that chronicled her journey from Honduras to a Las Vegas high school.
Garcia, who apparently went by Iris Rodriguez according to social media posts, was slated to travel on Sunday to her home country, Honduras. She had spent six months with family in Virginia while attending graduate school, according to comments posted in an online fundraising effort started for the woman’s family.
Joshua Alexander, a restaurant manager in Virginia, came to know the woman in recent months.
“One of the most amazing people I’ve ever met,” he told The Republic on Wednesday night. “The world could have used a lot more of her.”
All six died after the small, private plane they were flying in crashed shortly after takeoff Monday night from Scottsdale Airport and burst into flames at TPC Scottsdale golf course.
The Republic on Tuesday verified through family or friends the identities of three victims — Pedroza, Coogan and Patel.
Patel was “an entrepreneur with lots of energy and lots of charisma,” his twin brother, Akash Patel, told The Republic. The two came to the United States from India in 2009 to attend college.
“Anand” translates to “happiness.” So, Akash Patel said, his brother was widely known by the name “Happy.”
An Oklahoma resident, Happy co-founded a clothing line and worked as an event promoter, flying coast to coast with friends and clients on trips that often included stops in Scottsdale.
Coogan was a horse trainer who did equestrian sports and left high school in 2012 to pursue modeling opportunities, said Graham Rutherford, principal of Cardinal Newman High School in Santa Rosa, Calif., who learned of the woman’s death Tuesday.
“She was eager for adventure, and I always found her easy to speak with,” Rutherford told The Republic. “She got on well with many students, too.”
Coogan, who continued pursuing modeling, was visiting the area for the Phoenix Lights Festival, according to a post Saturday on her Instagram profile. “Forgot my sunnies” she wrote in a caption for a photo of her wearing a new pair of aviators for her nearly 27,000 followers.
Also on board was James Pedroza, who worked as a VIP host at a gay nightclub at the Mirage in Las Vegas. He was an “ally to the LGBTQ community,” his friend and co-worker, Garrett Pattiani, told The Republic.
“I am sad that he is gone, but loved how he lived life to the fullest. He was wanting to see the world and travel. He will be missed,” Pattiani said. “He never judged anyone and was always there to stand up for equal rights.”
Pedroza described himself as an “avid traveler” and posted on Instagram that he was looking forward to visiting his 37th country. He recently traveled to Lake Tahoe and posed next to the plane that crashed Monday, a plane that he said he bought a share in last summer. Investigators, however, have not confirmed that he was piloting the aircraft when it crashed.
For reasons investigators have not yet determined, the plane crashed about three-fourths of a mile away, and 30 degrees to the left of the runway it took off from at Scottsdale Airport.
A preliminary report is expected in 10 to 14 days. A report outlining in detail what occurred could take up to 18 months, as is typical in aviation investigations.
The National Transportation Safety Board is overseeing the investigation with help from the Federal Aviation Administration.
Follow Jason Pohl on Twitter: @pohl_jason
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