The National Transportation Safety Board has determined today that popular entertainer John Denver fatally crashed his experimental aircraft into Monterey Bay because his attention during flight was diverted in an attempt to switch fuel tanks. The fuel selector valve on the amateur-built Adrian Davis Long-EZ airplane Denver was flying was behind the pilot's left shoulder, forcing him to turn in his seat to locate the handle. This action, the Board concluded, likely caused him to inadvertently apply the right rudder, resulting in loss of aircraft control.
On October 12, 1997 Mr. Denver was performing touch and go operations in his recently purchased aircraft at the Monterey Peninsula Airport located in Pacific Grove, California. The pilot touched down three times before turning west and heading out into Monterey Bay. Moments later witnesses reported hearing a reduction in engine noise. The pilot made no distress calls and the aircraft was destroyed when it impacted the bay. The pilot and the majority of the aircraft were recovered.
Contributing to the crash was the pilot's inadequate preflight planning, specifically his failure to refuel the plane. The Board further determined that the builder's decision to locate the unmarked fuel selector handle in a difficult to access location, combined with unmarked fuel gauges was a causal factor in the accident. Additionally, the Board found that the pilot failed to train himself adequately for the transition to this type of aircraft and was inexperienced flying the Long-EZ.
To prevent similar accidents the National Transportation Safety Board proposed the following recommendations to the Federal Aviation Administration:
- Amend the FAA Order dealing with experimental aircraft so that proper placards and markings on cockpit instruments are present and that essential systems controls are easily found and operated during flight.
- Amend the FAA Order that addresses annual inspections of experimental aircraft to ensure that operators are in compliance with the first recommendations.
- Establish, in cooperation with the Experimental Aircraft Association and the Aviation Insurance Association, a program strongly encouraging pilots transitioning to unusual or unfamiliar experimental to undergo type-specific training.
The Board also recommended to the Aviation Insurance Association and the Experimental Aircraft Association that they work with the FAA to establish this training program so that pilots flying experimental aircraft have advanced, aircraft-specific training.
The Board's final report can be found on its Web page under Aviation: http://www.ntsb.gov/Aviation/aviation.htm