A Baton Rouge artist who pushed past his fear of flying and took his first airplane ride was one of two people killed when the sightseeing aircraft crashed into Lake Pontchartrain Saturday night after a nighttime tour of New Orleans.
Reginald Hillard, 25, a tattoo artist and rapper, received the “Big Easy Lights at Night” sightseeing flight as a surprise gift from his girlfriend, Briana Davis. The flight was the first time Mr. Hillard had ever been in an airplane.
“I ain’t never been this close to a plane before,” Mr. Hillard says as he approaches the airplane in an Instagram video uploaded by Ms. Davis, who accompanied him on the flight but survived.
According to the Times-Picayune, the flight tour was booked through New Orleans Aerial Tours, which is operated by Flight Academy of New Orleans LLC. The Times-Picayune said the airplane’s registered owner, Ankur Prem Hukmani, declined to comment when asked about the crash.
A family friend told the Times-Picayune that Ms. Davis said Mr. Hillard enjoyed the flight, especially seeing Bourbon Street and the Superdome from the air, and that the flight was almost over. The airplane made a descent to Lakefront Airport when Ms. Davis realized the airplane was landing in the water and not on the runway.
Ms. Davis told the family that after the plane hit the water, Mr. Hillard started to kick the side door and window. He was able to open it enough to push Davis out but he wasn’t able to escape before the airplane nosedived to the bottom of the lake. Mr. Hillard was reportedly a good swimmer, so he may have survived had he been able to get out of the airplane.
The pilot, whose name was not disclosed by authorities, also died. Ms. Davis was pulled from the water by a by a good Samaritan, according to the Times-Picayune, which did not elaborate on the rescue.
It took search and recovery personnel until Tuesday to locate the sunken airplane. Workers pulled the airplane from the bottom of the lake using a crane. The bodies of Mr. Hillard and the pilot were still inside.
Source: The Times-Picayune