On March 25, 2006, about 0715 pacific standard time, a Cooper Harmon Rocket II, amateur built experimental airplane, N96CR, was destroyed by impact with terrain and postcrash fire while performing low altitude aerobatic flight maneuvers, about 5 miles east of McKittrick, California. The airplane was being operated by the pilot as a visual flight rules (VFR) personal local flight under Title 14, CFR Part 91, when the accident occurred. The solo private pilot received fatal injuries. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and no flight plan was filed. The airplane departed a private airstrip about 5 miles south of McKittrick, about 0700.

During a telephone conversation with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigator-in-charge (IIC) on March 27, the FAA aviation safety inspector who visited the accident site said he spoke with several people who witnessed the accident. The inspector said the witnesses reported the area is a common camping area for friends and family of the pilot, located on ranchland owned by the pilot's family. They indicated it was fairly routine for the pilot to perform aerobatic maneuvers in the area on Saturday mornings. They said that on the morning of the accident, the pilot performed several aerobatic maneuvers, and passed overhead inverted, waving at the campers. They said the pilot was exiting the area while performing aileron rolls, when the airplane pitched down and impacted the ground. The inspector said the airplane impacted the terrain in a near vertical, nose-down descent. He said a postcrash fire consumed most of the wreckage, and flight control continuity could not be confirmed.

Photographs taken by the FAA inspector were forwarded to the IIC. The pictures showed the terrain was sparsely treed, low rolling hills. The impact footprint was on fairly level ground, and not much larger than the diameter of the wingspan. The engine and propeller were buried out of view in the impact crater. The airframe and associated structures were stacked vertically protruding from the impact crater with the vertical and horizontal stabilizers on the top.

The IIC conducted telephone interviews with the witnesses, and all of the witness statement's were consistent with the information provided by the FAA inspector who responded to the accident site. No airplane or pilot logbooks were discovered for examination. According to FAA documents, the airplane was an amateur built experimental airplane, which received FAA certification on August 11, 1998. The airplane, commonly referred to as a Harmon Rocket, was a low-wing, two-place, tandem cockpit, aerobatic airplane equipped with a tailwheel. The airplane was constructed by the pilot, who according to FAA records, received an experimental repair certificate for the airplane on August 24, 2000. According to an application for a third class medical certificate submitted to the FAA, dated August 18, 2005, the pilot had accumulated 4400 hours of flying experience. There is no record of the pilot applying to the FAA for a waiver to perform low altitude aerobatic flight, nor is there an FAA designated special use aerobatic flight area located at the accident site.

A postmortem examination of the pilot was performed under the authority of the Kern County Coroner's Office, 1832 Flower Street, Bakersfield, California, 93305-3714, on March 28, 2006. The examination of the pilot revealed the cause of death was multiple blunt force traumatic injuries. Tissue samples were sent to the FAA Bioaeronautical Sciences Research Laboratory, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, for toxicological examination. Ethanol detected in the brain was attributed to postmortem ethanol production. A review of available FAA medical records, autopsy, and toxicological results, did not disclose any evidence of any preimpact incapacitating medical conditions.

The impact site is on ranch property owned by the pilot and his family. Ranch personnel buried the accident airplane wreckage on the property. The airplane was not examined by the NTSB.

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