NTSB investigators either traveled in support of this investigation or conducted a significant amount of investigative work without any travel, and used data obtained from various sources to prepare this aircraft accident report.
The noncertificated pilot/owner departed in his four-seat, amateur-built airplane in dark night conditions with four passengers on board. Radar data and a witness account indicated that the airplane was performing climbs, descents, and “S” turns at low altitude before the accident; the radar data indicated that climb and descent rates reached over 2,500 ft per minute. The witness described the airplane flying “just above the trees” and up and down in an “M” pattern with smooth increases and decreases in engine power until it disappeared from view, and the engine sounds ceased. Examination of the airplane revealed no evidence of mechanical malfunctions or anomalies, and the accident site was consistent with impact at full engine power and a high rate of descent.The pilot had a history of disregard for established rules and regulations. He operated the accident airplane for years without a pilot certificate. He was arrested on three separate occasions, two of those within the 4 months before the accident, for operating vehicles under the influence of alcohol. His contempt for rules and regulations, as illustrated in his operation of surface vehicles and the accident airplane, is consistent with an attitude of “anti-authority,” which the Federal Aviation Administration considers hazardous to safe operation of aircraft.On the night of the accident, the pilot elected to conduct the flight with more passengers than could be restrained in seats, which resulted in the airplane likely being loaded near its maximum allowable gross weight and beyond its aft center of gravity limit. The aggressive maneuvering described by the witness and as shown by radar data would have been challenging given the reduced visual references associated with dark night conditions, the loading of the airplane, and the unrestrained passenger, and ultimately resulted in the pilot’s loss of control at low altitude.