Commercial Pilot and Aerobatics Champion Killed in Mysterious San Bernardino Plane Crash
On the afternoon of December 6, 2015, a single engine, two-seat high performance airplane crashed during takeoff at the Apple Valley Airport (APV) just outside of Victorville in San Bernardino County. The plane came apart on impact and left a fiery trail of flames and debris over 200 feet long. The pilot and pilot-rated passenger were both killed in the crash. An investigation is ongoing, but so far the FAA is having difficulty determining what caused the fatal accident.
The pilot was a world-famous aerobatics champion who lived in Victorville and had flown his jet – an Aero Vodochody L-39C – in many Apple Valley airshows. Vocationally, he was a commercial pilot for American Airlines with 23,000 hours of flight experience. According to the preliminary report of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the passenger onboard the plane was pilot-rated and was being taken up in the L-39 on a familiarization flight, since he was interested in purchasing a similar airplane.
The accident occurred during take off from APV. The jet was halfway down the runway and 125 feet off the ground when witnesses reported hearing a “pop, pop, pop” and seeing bright orange flashes coming from the plane’s exhaust nozzle. The jet rolled left at the end of the runway and impacted the ground about 800 feet away, leaving a trail of fire and debris 263 feet long and 100 feet wide. Witnesses also reported seeing a dark blackish or grey-colored exhaust coming from the nozzle just prior to takeoff.
The initial investigation did not find any sign of internal catastrophic engine failure or any evidence of debris from a foreign object that might have caused the accident. Fuel samples were taken which found the fuel to be clear and free of contaminants that might otherwise explain the exhaust issues.
It may be many months before a conclusion is reached as to what caused the crash. In the meantime, this tragedy serves to remind us all that even the most skilled and experienced pilots can fall victim to aviation accidents due to issues such as aircraft or component defects, improper maintenance, defective fuel or other faulty products, and other reasons.
If you or a loved one has been injured or worse in a southern California plane crash, contact the experienced aviation accident attorneys at Magaña, Cathcart & McCarthy at 310-553-6630.