AOPA Air Safety Institute Posts ‘Early Analysis’ Video On Fatal STOL Crash


The AOPA Air Safety Institute (ASI) released a video today (May 24) exploring the May 20 fatal accident during the MayDay STOL (Short Takeoff and Landing) event in Wayne, Nebraska. Competitor Tom Dafoe was killed when his Cessna 140 crashed on final approach during a STOL demonstration. As part of the institute’s Early Analysis series, the video is designed to focus on what is known about the accident and recommend cautionary strategies for pilots.

ASI Senior Vice President Richard McSpadden said, “In ‘Early Analysis: N76075,’ the AOPA Air Safety Institute wants to help pilots understand what is known about the accident. We look at factors that are likely to be the subject of an investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).” Citing cellphone video of the accident, McSpadden said, “It appeared Dafoe’s Cessna 140 made an S-turn for spacing behind a Zenith 701 to compensate for the Cessna’s faster speed, leading to a stall/spin accident. A lesson general aviation pilots can take away from this accident is to always have a Plan B when following closely behind a slower aircraft—including breaking off and performing a go-around.”

McSpadden enumerated possible safety enhancements for STOL competitions, including: sequencing faster aircraft ahead of slower aircraft; increasing the spacing intervals to 30 seconds (video indicates that the MayDay STOL competition launched at approximately 25-second intervals, he said); establishing mandatory turn points in the pattern; disallowing spacing turns (S-turns or other) on final approach; only allowing one aircraft on final at a time; delegating a safety observer with a radio to direct pilots to break out of the pattern if necessary; and briefing competitors on break-out procedures before the competition.

Mark Phelps
Mark Phelps is a senior editor at AVweb. He is an instrument rated private pilot and former owner of a Grumman American AA1B and a V-tail Bonanza.

Other AVwebflash Articles


  1. We don’t need a political action committee like AOPA to remind pilots to GO AROUND if you cannot make a safe approach due to preceeding traffic. I did that twice last week; it’s what pilots are supposed to recognize and execute.

    • Clearly we do. And the ASI is the safety arm of the PAC that protects your freedoms to fly. Furthermore the content that McSpadden and team produce is of excellent quality. – you should check out their videos and podcasts. You’ll learn a lot and be a safer pilot.

      • To be blunt, any pilot in a bad approach (while very low and slow and in gusty conditions) whose first reaction is to “manuver” just put a participation ribbon ahead of his own skin.

      • I agree. I appreciate the time an effort that the safety foundation puts into these presentations. I always watch and take to heart the information they share.

        • And they still recommend “performing a go-around.”
          There is no new lesson to teach, only another sad reminder.
          Don’t be that guy.

          • ASI is a very useful tool for pilot safety. Thank you to all the editor and producers that make it happen! I agree with R N. Evidently pilots need to be told to go around.
            I personally know several (anonymous) pilots that would rather try to stick the landing than face the possible embarrassment of their buddies teasing them on their next “hangar flying session.”
            Not to sound cliche’, but all pilots should have a “safety above all things” mindset. Your are in a tin can moving at 100 kts in the air. Not a good idea to mess around. This also applies to the pilots who refuse to declare and emergency because of paperwork.

            BTW: Nothing against Tom. I feel for his family. I guarantee he was under intense stress and I recognize how hard it is to make the right decision in those circumstances. But still, my statement stands. As sad as these tragedies are, we need to learn from them and not be reluctant to do the safe thing. Again: Cliche’

  2. Or a 360 degree turn, then come in. Pulling back the power when already low and slow is no way to go. That’s what I was taught.

  3. Human / Pilot error due to poor decision making and not being aware of the chain of events adding up and leading to this tragedy is so obvious. Being aware and avoiding transition from being ahead of the game to falling behind and reacting with poor or simply wrong decisions.

    Fear comes in many forms!

    In most cases we do it to ourselves. “Peer pressure” and fear from “failure” lead to get-there-itis and loosing focus on the actual task of 1. Aviating 2. Communicating 3. Navigating.
    My thoughts go out to family, friends and those who were there to witness the accident. I have been there and seen similar things happen. So sad and avoidable. Lessons learned many times over……….

  4. Prayers for the family and friends of Tom Dafoe. It’s been said the FAA regs are written in blood. That’s true for many rules in motorsports competition of all kinds as well. AOPA’s recomendations are aimed at event organizers for the most part. If organizers want to continue to hold these events they have to cover as many bases as possible to keep things safe for everyone involved. Nothing in the AOPA video is outside just plain common sense. But sometimes common sense is not immediately apparent until something goes horribly wrong.

  5. Years ago an AVSIG participant died when maneuvering by controller instruction, in OSH’s very busy traffic.

    People who knew him commented that he was not a great pilot at that point but was flying an airplane that was less forgiving than many. (He had the money to buy more than he was yet capable of flying.)

    George Braley of GAMi said his policy was to remind controllers that he flies the airplane, their job is only to manage traffic. (George can be quite ‘forthright’. 😉

  6. The connection between the accident and the STOL competition is really only incidental. I’m sure many who often fly at active uncontrolled fields have made radical adjustments to follow unexpectedly slow traffic in a pattern, even to the point of resorting to the same S-turning at minimum airspeed.

    Safe enough, IF the pilot is familiar with his aircraft’s reactions at that edge of the envelope in the prevailing fight conditions, is ready to instantly apply corrective action at the slightest burble…and has the altitude needed for it. Habitually pushing the edges of the envelope certainly isn’t the mark of a good pilot, but neither is being unfamiliar with what lurks there.

    • I can’t fault the guy too bad. There is a situation here beyond just a stall. He wasn’t doing an S Turn, I watched the crash several times now. There are other factors people missed.
      1. There was a a pretty good gusting cross wind from the left.
      2. The stall warning on Cessnas is located on the left wing.
      3. He is not crabbed into the cross wind shading the right wing (a wing that doesn’t have a stall warning on it)
      Yes, a simple crab would have likely prevented this crash, even if he didn’t go around.
      A crab would have slowed his forward progress preventing him from running up the rear of the plane in front of him… and it would have provided undisturbed airflow over the right wing.

  7. I have no great insight to offer. But three small observations:

    1) A lot of times, these traffic situations are new to newish pilots. They don’t realize the danger they’re in; don’t have a plan; and at a “Controlled” airport, might think that they’re violating a Rule.

    My airplane partner was flying Left Seat as we departed Sun’N’Fun in our Glasair. A Stearman had departed ahead of us. My partner was heading directly toward the Stearman and closing fast, as she dutifully climbed on upwind.

    Apparently unaware of the danger evidenced by the image of a Stearman growing rapidly larger in our windshield, I asked her if she intended to fly into him. IIRC, I took the plane and banked away from the Stearman with a few hundred feet to spare. It never occurred to her do that/that she could do that. We were at a “controlled” airport, after all, where she was “expected” to climb straight out, per her “clearance.”

    2) Unfortunately, as car drivers first, we often bring a 2D mentality with us to a 3D (flying) problem, and so limit our options. My favorite example of this is the 3-Step solution in the scene from the Wrath of Khan. There the Enterprise, being chased by Khan into a nebula, 1) “descends” vertically below Khan’s ship, 2) let’s Khan pass ahead, and then 3) “climbs” back up to shoot at Khan from behind. A “2D” car driver’s solution. The Military aerobatic 3D solution (as I presume any fixed wing Military pilot knows from the different way that they are trained) would have been for the Enterprise to rotate 90 degrees “up” as Khan passed overhead and shoot Khan from below.

    3) So we sometimes let ourselves get “boxed in” in our thinking. In my early days, I often didn’t know what to do/didn’t have a plan when things went wrong in the traffic pattern. As the years went on, and things continued to happened, and I realized that Controllers weren’t going to save me. So I started thinking “outside the box.” Which primarily meant doing some arm chair flying and coming up with various plans on my own for various “What if’s.” Like, adding full power, climbing above – and to the side – of problematic traffic in the pattern. And I figured that I would deal with the Tower later. (I never had to explain saving my butt to the Tower.)

    Aircraft are not limited to left/right and up/down maneuvers like cars. While we can’t put on the brakes to stop and think, we can climb in a bank (slowing chandelle like), descend in a bank (rapidly gaining speed), even go vertical if really necessary (boxed canyon), etc. But I think that one needs to have through this through ahead of time.

    As has been suggested already, a Go-Around (climbing over the runway and offsetting to one side to keep the offending aircraft in sight) would have been a good option in this instant case.

  8. It is a interesting stall… anyone look at the strong cross wind?
    The wind was strong to his left causing the left wing to have more lift. The right wing was shaded by the body of the aircraft, because he wasn’t crabbed into the wind.
    Had he be crabbed into the wind until just before touch down he may not have stalled the right wing, and would have slowed his forward progress, increasing his spacing.

    I’ve been to several of these STOL demonstrations, but they have been in pretty clam winds, or straight down the grass field. I think the missing crab is what spun this plane. It is also likely the cause of many stall spin landing accidents. Oddly, because the stall warning is on the left wing for Cessnas, he may not have been given warning that his right wing was stalling.
    Just a thought.

  9. PS… I didn’t see an S turn here.
    His right wing was stalled and that started the spin to the right. This was a poor flying technique of flying keeping the nose of the plane pointed at the runway allowing the right wing to be shaded. This is exactly why you are taught to crab into the wind until just before touch down.
    The Cessna stall warning being on the left wing did help, he likely didn’t know what was about to happen, before it was too late.