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Former Medford resident dies in Utah plane crash

A North Medford High School graduate who family members said had dreamed of being a pilot since childhood died Wednesday during a training flight in Utah.

David Whitney Jr., 25, a Utah Valley University aviation student, and instructor Jamie Bennee, 34, died when the single-engine Diamond Da-20 crashed into a Payson, Utah, residential area near an elementary school. The small plane crashed nose-first into the ground and broke into pieces, but didn't cause any other property damage or injuries to people on the ground, authorities said. It came to rest on a driveway between two houses without hitting any trees or power lines, The Salt Lake Tribune reported.

Candace Harris, who lives near the crash site, told The Salt Lake Tribune that the plane was doing "barrel rolls" before it crashed at about 1 p.m. Other witnesses told Salt Lake City television station KSL that the pilot appeared to be trying to recover from a loss of power or maneuver at low altitude.

The Diamond plane is not capable of doing acrobatic barrel rolls and the student was too early in his training to perform a spin recovery, said Mario Markides, director of operations for the university's aviation science program, which runs the flight school.

In a spin recovery, a pilot attempts to pull the plane out of a vertical dive that can occur with a loss of power or air pressure under the wing.

The plane had taken off from Provo Municipal Airport and had been in the air for about an hour. The pilot didn't issue a distress call, and the cause of the crash remains under investigation, officials said.

A Utah Valley University spokesman said the fatalities were the first in the school's program, which enrolls about 350 students a year.

Whitney's 19-year-old sister, Carissa Cunningham of Medford, said her older brother was about to get his general aviation pilot's license and hoped to one day become a commercial airline pilot.

"He always had a love for flying," she said, recalling his interest in model airplanes and air shows throughout his youth.

She said instructors had described him as a good pilot.

"He was an awesome brother," Cunningham said, noting he was very patient with his five younger sisters. "He was always there for all of us and not mean to us like some big brothers."

Cunningham said her parents, David and Susan Whitney, flew to Utah Thursday to make arrangements to bring their son home and comfort his wife, Angie. A funeral service is planned for Medford next week.

David Whitney graduated from North Medford in 2004. He played trumpet and French horn in the school's marching band and was active in the Church of Latter-day Saints. He served a church mission in Mexico, where he befriended Angie, Cunningham said. They corresponded by e-mail and their friendship bloomed into love. They married Dec. 21, 2009.

Whitney attended Brigham Young University for two years, then transferred to Utah Valley University's aviation program about 18 months ago, his family said.

Former Medford resident dies in Utah plane crash