Charles Nevel / Special to the Las Vegas Sun
Published Saturday, May 19, 2012 | 5:46 p.m.
Updated Saturday, May 19, 2012 | 11:39 p.m.
The pilot of a jet fighter plane that crashed near Boulder City on Friday, identified early Saturday as Douglas Gilliss by members of the Red Steel Jet Team and later by the Clark County Coroner's Office, once had his license removed for falsely certifying another pilot.
The NBC affiliate in Bakersfield, Calif., in 2010 reported that Gilliss falsely certified a pilot in a similar jet in 2009 and lost his license as a result. Two people died when that aircraft crashed. Later, Gilliss regained his license.
A note posted on Red Steel’s Facebook page Saturday morning stated “Yesterday just outside of Boulder City, NV we lost Doug in an air plane crash on his way to Van Nuys, California…Doug's aviation resume is and will remain one of the most respected in the industry.”
The accident occurred Friday around 12:30 p.m. about a half-mile west of the Boulder City Airport.
According to Federal Aviation Administration, a Czech-made Aero Vodochody L39 jet crashed for unknown reasons in a mostly barren desert area near a string of power lines.
The Clark County coroner's office confirmed that Gilliss, of Solano Beach, Calif., and passenger Richard A. Winslow, 65, of Palm Desert, Calif., were killed in the wreck.
According to his profile on Red Steel’s website, Gilliss was a former United States Air Force Pilot who flew more than 5,800 hours during his 30-year career. He was a certified FAA safety counselor and had developed and taught curriculum for the L-39.
A second L39 jet that took off alongside Gillis’s jet Friday circled the airport and landed safely, witnesses said.
Charles Nevel, a custodian at the airport, said he saw the planes take off in tandem. The jet that crashed peeled off and slowly descended before it went out of sight behind a building, he said. The same plane had safely taken off and landed earlier in the day, he said.
According to employees at various businesses at the airport, some of whom monitor aircraft radio chatter, the jet experienced some sort of difficulty when taking off. Moments after a puff of smoke appeared, the pilot radioed “mayday!” before the aircraft crashed.
The National Transportation Safety Board is the lead investigator in the accident, and will release a report of its findings in the coming weeks.
The L-39 Albatross is a jet trainer aircraft developed in the former Czechoslovakia in the 1960s. It has a single turbofan jet engine and a top speed of 485 mph, according to Hopper Flight, an L-39 jet enthusiast group.
One website, L-39 Enthusiasts, lists 19 crashes of the aircraft since July 3, 1998; there was most recently a crash Jan. 20 in Rainbow City, Ala.