87-Year-Old Pilot Killed In Go-Around Attempt


A Mooney M20C that crashed Tuesday outside of a strip mall in Plano, Texas, killing the 87-year-old pilot, was reportedly attempting a go-around, according to a newly released incident report.

The aircraft crashed within a mile of Air-Park Dallas Airport—a nearby uncontrolled field. Witnesses told the Dallas Morning News they heard a loud boom and also saw the right wing dip before the crash. The aircraft ended up in the parking lot of the strip mall but no one on the ground was hurt. The crash was widely reported by local media.

Elzie Monroe McDonald of Arizona was identified as the pilot, according to the Dallas Morning News. He was the sole occupant on board the aircraft during Tuesday’s crash. McDonald was flying to the Dallas area to visit family for the Thanksgiving holiday. 

A veteran pilot, McDonald had recently received an FAA Master Pilot Award—a recognition given to those who have demonstrated more than 50 years of safe flying. 

The National Transportation Safety Board is still investigating the crash. 

Amelia Walsh
Amelia Walsh is a private pilot who enjoys flying her family’s Columbia 350. She is based in Colorado and loves all things outdoors including skiing, hiking, and camping.


  1. The pilot was 6 years older than Joe Biden?
    I’m not casting aspersions, but doing a go-around in a complex aircraft, at an unfamiliar 3080 x 30 ft, UNLIT runway, AT EARLY NIGHT is a lot more sporting than I would want to put myself into.

    • And 6 years older than Mitch McConnell too. Not that either have anything to do with anything remotely related to this aviation topic.

      • Exactly! Both needed to hang up being in control of anything. Dropping into a “black hole” short runway with a displaced threshold with trees needing a steep decent in a Mooney grantees a go-around. I’m sorry but obviously his judgement and reflexes were behind the curve. A stellar history is like the runway behind you. Play it safe and you don’t become an “aviation topic”.

  2. I guess we’re stuck with ageism, just can’t seem to ‘shake off the demon’ (Brewer & Shipley). Good thing I’m too woke to care.

    Up until that decision, he was certainly rockin it for decades, in a complex aircraft no less.

    On to a new vector – condolences to the anxiously awaiting family that Thanksgiving day.

    • This looks to be a tricky airport even in daylight.
      We used to have 9X1(Porter) NE of Houston that was similar (but 600′ longer and a dozen runway lights worked). I had several long trips back into Houston at night in the Cheetah and refused to land at Porter and went on another ~15 miles to Hooks to be safe. Basically you have to drop in into a “black hole” over unseen tall trees right above the stall speed. Not a easy thing to do at night, in a Mooney. Yea, condolences to the family.

      • Oh, so you’re now saying it may have been something other than age? It could have happened to perhaps, a 47 year old as well? I think I’ll go with Dave Miller’s observation: “Up until that decision, he was certainly rockin it for decades, in a complex aircraft no less.”

        • Age 87 absolutely dulled his physical stamina, mental acuity, vision, and reaction times. Taking on a VERY challenging landing obviously exceeded his current ability.

          “he was certainly rockin it for decades” is more of an ego thing, unfortunately that too may have contributed to his clouded judgement…

          • Sure – and experience and judgment were the offset. In this case something went wrong. JFK Jr. was 38: he had all the physical stamina, mental acuity, vision and reaction times you could want; something went wrong for him, too. Things go wrong, and they usually – almost always – have nothing to do with age. Ageism is just that, until and unless we have better information.

  3. Like Bob Hoover went on to perform air shows until he was 80 and continued to fly until he was 85. Perhaps one of the most interesting things Bob told me during my recent interview with him was how he decided it was time to quit flying. Bob said that he believed that he would always know when it was time to quit. To assure this, he maintained high calibrated standards such as target speeds for particular points in his loop maneuvers. When he failed to meet these self-imposed criteria he grounded himself.

    you got to know when to hold them and know when to fold them.

    • True that. I’m 88, still doing flight instruction in gliders, and am about half way through an online FIRC – if I’m still flying when the renewal expires, I’ll be 90. Also do presentations and mentoring on “the aging pilot”, and a key element there is being responsible for managing your OWN capabilities objectively.

  4. I would humbly offer a revised title for consideration:

    “Veteran Pilot and FAA Master Pilot Award Winner Tragically Killed in Go-Around Attempt.”

    There is absolutely no need to mention his age, ethnicity, race, gender, weight or any other bias, implicit or not in the title description.

    • What Dave Miller says, exponentially! Did you get that Amelia? Great lesson to learn in this budding stage of your career.

    • I beg to differ.

      If indeed ethnicity, race or gender have no relevance to the accident, an unusual age (and eventually weight) do, and therefore should be mentioned.

  5. I am a licensed Private Pilot, and retired State Police. Why is it that we question the ability of the aged to drive automobiles, but not pilots. I stopped flying when I was 78 because I did not feel comfortable with my abilities. I am now 84 and am seriously considering the decision to stop driving automobiles. I have never been involved in an accident or even out a dent in an aircraft or car, but there comes a time when we must face facts so we do not cause situations that we can not get out of.

    • Most people haven’t had to respond to vehicle accidents their whole life and don’t really examine their fitness very well. You have had to do this many times. I commend your decision.

      My condolences to the family of the pilot.

    • I have always wondered about the questioning of the aged to drive. It seems perfectly rational until you realize the state, including law enforcement, does such a ridiculously bad job in education, testing, and enforcement. My parents both passed from cancer before losing the skills to drive, and my in laws literally got lost before losing the skill to drive as senility got their sense of direction before their coordination and motor skills.
      I may need to come up with some sort of Hoover test for myself, but I think I will quit driving before I must out of fear of the behavior of those around me. We just had an idiot total his own and another car, and damage two others just outside our home. He ran a stop sign at high speed and couldn’t make the turn. We live in a very urban area with a lot of pedestrian activity. Luckily, no one was hurt.

    • This is true. But for a given individual the ability to multitask (aviate, navigate, communicate), one’s vision and motor skill reaction time all deteriorate as the years go by. This makes it increasingly difficult to “stay ahead of the airplane”.

      These are not regularly tested for (unless you count the BAFR) and judgement about one’s level of fitness to fly is mostly left to the individual.

      At 78 I voluntarily hung up the headset after 48 years of part 91 flying. No accidents or incidents in that time, still instrument current and flying a relatively simple C182. I just realized that I was not the same as when I was 65.

      I did at the time I stopped flying. From about age 75 I only flew solo except when with my CFII for a semi-annual IPC.

    • A pilot is not the best judge of how his or her own age-related performance is becoming dangerously degraded. It is like fatigue in that respect. The airlines and commercial operators are held to a higher standard which includes hard red-line maximum allowable flight hours and rest requirements. CFIs who choose to do Flight Reviews with 80-90yr old pilots need to be aware of the weight their signature carries.

  6. As for when to hang it up: I think it comes down to human’s natural instinct to overestimate our abilities. We have a big bias to inflate our skill and diminish our attribution of outcomes to luck. All of us do this and some, like the gentleman who posted above that he’s quitting driving are keenly aware of this phenomenon.

  7. I met two guys at the fuel pump pulling up their Cardinal to get fuel. The older gentleman was approaching 90, and his son was my age, 64. “Dad” was still flying, but never solo — always with his rated son in the right seat. “We only go on nice days like today.” Not always an available option for us, but I thought how wise.

  8. I’m with Dave Miller on this, Amelia.

    Unless you are asserting that the pilot’s age was a factor in this accident, it has no place in the head or the lede. That does not prohibit you from writing “Elzie Monroe McDonald, 87, of Arizona …” in the second ‘graph. However, starting your headline with the pilot’s age is an editorial take on the “probable cause”, which has yet to be determined. It may be no more relevant than the fact that he was from Arizona.

    For that matter, was it germane that the accident aircraft was a Mooney M20C? Had he been a Black man (or worse, a doctor) would that have made it into your headline or lede? The only extraneous fact that makes this a story worth its electrons is the irony of it happening to a Master Pilot Award winner.

    I know we are in a new age of “digital journalism”, but I pine for the days of ink-stained wretches in eye-shades who took young reporters under their wings and red-pencil-whipped their gossip into reportage. Back then, a reporter could claim innocence because an editor brought the prose up to the publisher’s standards, and composed the headline. That’s not the case any more, sadly.

    • +1. I’m guessing you wouldn’t have written the headline with “woman” substituted for “87-year-old”.

    • 87 and flying a long cross country wears on you. Add to that the bad (more than poor judgement) of trying to hit a small unlit field at night with a Mooney. So yea, fatigue and old age DO become a factor when trying to perform that almost guaranteed missed landing in the speed needed to recognize and execute it. PLENTY of documentation on fatigue as part of accidents and a long XC at 87 can and will be a factor. HONESTLY “I” always divert to a nice airport with nice big runways and nice lighting in these situations. And yea, I too have 50 years of flying without a scratch BECAUSE I still respect safety and limitations. Please take care of yourselves and don’t put yourselves into such unnecessary critical landing scenarios.

  9. There is a lot we do not know about atmospheric conditions and will not if we don’t look at new research. My research found this to be the probable cause for this plane crash. (Plano, Texas – Nov 21, 2023, 1 fatality 73-Knot Jet Stream with Front Passing Through Created a Vortex, Plane Flew into and Crashed.) Read my book and you will understand just what is happening. Science About How Tornadoes And Vortexes Form And How They Are Causing Planes To Crash (Including MH370) available from Barnes & Noble and Amazon.
    Ronald B. Hardwig, Professional Engineer

  10. This incident has generated a lot of comments, some accurate, some political (wonder what Ronald Regan would have said). Anyway, one point that was briefly touched on and not followed was testing one’s capabilities. Somewhere, someone, must have measured reaction times, visual fields, instantaneous problem solving/3 dimensional analysis, and solutions by age. That would at least provide a set of data points by age (there will always be a standard curve around each of those dimensions) and then pilots (and ground vehicle drivers too) could be tested to see where they lie on each dimension and overall, and use that set of numbers to determine fitness. At the very least, it would diminish or eliminate all these “arm chair” speculations!

    • There are robust data available for all sorts of physical and cognitive performance tests as a function of age. From a pure physical, psychomotor, and cognitive performance standpoint, humans are at their most capable at about age 30 and decline from there.

      The problems with this approach are that (i) performance on all such metrics improves dramatically with practice and training and (ii) the ability to apply good judgment is not a function reaction time, rapid mental calculations, accuracy and/or speed on cognitive testing or other performance measures. Good judgment is a complex cognitive activity and there is no reason to believe it declines with other, more physiological, measures.

      So, despite the allure, it is not at all clear that testing of physical or cognitive performance is a particularly useful predictor of crash or death rates while flying an airplane. To assess such a relationship, tests of the kind you described would have to be given to large numbers of pilots who were then followed over time for incidents. The FAA may be undertaking a study of such relationships at this time.

  11. Unfortunately the Air park has had almost been closed down in the past from all the urban development, this incident may be the nail in the coffin if the city tries to shut it down again.
    ADSB shows him low on the approach and very slow on the go around, the lights from all the business and roads probably led to a spatial distortion. It is lucky that no one else was killed or injured in the incident.

  12. A basic tenant of Journalism is that exceptional circumstances merit the lead. Hence the use of the pilot’s age in the headline was journalistically unremarkable. Additionally, in most publications, the writer does not choose the headline – an editor does. So y’all are razzing the writer for something that every trained journalist in the world would do – and that she likely didn’t even have control over. So just back it down a notch – okay? I’m sure she’s doing her best and you being stinky about it doesn’t help.

    I don’t agree that aging empirically must be the cause when an exceptionally aged pilot has an accident. Different people DO age differently – and as we’ve heard lately bad decisions can be made by people of all stripes. In this case I think it’s yet another case of absolutely moronic decision making. Not the skill set or physiological condition. This guy should never have been there to begin with. With Addison only a few miles away it was absolutely stupid to try this.

    Miss Walsh;
    You are by far the best of the new crowd here so don’t let folks get you down. Now if you can just grow a sarcastic attitude and a stylistic flair like some that have recently departed, you will have a long and bright career assured.

  13. In an accident report, yes I do want to see the age of the pilot. It’s data to consider. For myself I started flying in high school, stayed current until 3 years ago. I’m 81 now and hung it up at 78. I just knew that my motor skills, awareness, reflexes, decision making just wasn’t’ where it had been only a year previous. I figured hell, hadn’t killed anyone yet and hadn’t even wrecked an airplane…yet. Quit while you’re ahead. I’m already thinking about my driving. Feeling good about it still….but monitoring. You can Uber a bunch for the price of owning a car.

  14. Whoever was responsible, thank you, for at least changing the funeral pyre photo of the crash site to a pic of Mr. McDonald.

    Last photos, words or impressions do have a subconscious impact on those close to the happening. I also noticed in both news items recently of Mr. McSpadden and Mr. Francis – sans the crash site photos – whom also apparently “made a moronic decision” or had “clouded judgement” from other on-high statements about Mr. McDonald here – were not judged by their age at all – I couldn’t even find their age listed in any of the news items, or in the blog about them. Still don’t know their ages.

    Whether it’s the unconscious reach I perform every morning for the oil can to begin walking like the Tinman, or the number 74 on official documents I use or any one of many other kick-ya-to-the-curb surprises of judgement from others I’m encountering nowadays it’s becoming increasingly obvious to me that I need to dye my hair and beard.

    But seriously, ageism is one of the last socially acceptable prejudices. It’s my hope this discussion and the many examples offered here by pilots still flying ignoring age numbers helps to break up this negative generalization a little, but I’m not holding my breath. Never know, I might pass out.

  15. So many absurd comments. I flew Beech 18’s and a variety of other cabin class airplanes out of 3000′ runways at night and in all kinds of weather.
    The information available so far does not indicate a low altitude go around but an overflight with the pilot indicating he would go to Addison.
    I expected to hear stall/spin but several videos show near 90 degree bank followed by descent into ground at estimated 30 degree angle.
    Pilot incapacitation is likely.
    Very rare but airline pilots have died in flight at relatively young age.
    Age is not relevant, way too many variables.
    In the extreme the retired airline pilot who holds two world records, distance in a straight line and pole to pole around the world is likely a much better pilot than any commenter on here. Lancair 4, Guam to Jacksonville FL non stop.

  16. You are injured at a remote airstrip in Idaho. You have two choices of pilots to fly you out:
    Pilot 1, 6′ tall 350#, heavy smoker and drinker age 45
    Pilot 2 6′ tall 170# never smoked or drank. exercises regularly age 85.
    Both are equally experienced and qualified. Which will you choose??

  17. Bill Harrelson set a speed around the world in class and category in 2020 at age 69. 121 hours in eight days. Some 30 hour legs. Much of it hand flown because the autopilot is not useable at higher gross weights.
    The record that he broke was previously held by Max Conrad.