AOPA Iceland President, Three Others, Killed In Cessna 172 Crash

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The pilot of a Cessna 172 that crashed into one of Iceland’s largest lakes was Haraldur Diego, 50, president of AOPA Iceland, that country’s branch of the worldwide pilots organization. All four onboard the Feb. 3, two-hour sightseeing flight were killed and their bodies later located about 150 feet underwater in Lake Thingvallavatn, roughly 30 nautical miles east of Reykjavik Airport. The two-day search involved more than 1,000 responders, a Royal Danish Bombardier 604 Challenger search aircraft and a remote-control submarine. It is said to be the most extensive search operation in the past five years.

The passengers included 22-year-old American skateboarder and YouTube star Josh Neuman. According to an AP report, the flight was launched, at least in part, to create commercial brand content for a Belgian fashion house. The company’s sponsorship manager, 27-year-old Tim Alings of the Netherlands, was among the dead, along with Belgian Nicola Bellavia, 32, described as a “skydiver and social media influencer.”

According to AOPA’s U.S. headquarters, Diego ran Volcano Air Iceland, an aerial photography tour company. He contacted air traffic control with a routine exchange about an hour into the mission but was not heard from again. There was no distress call.

AOPA U.S. President Mark Baker said in a statement, “I was fortunate to know Haraldur on both a professional and personal level. He was a tireless supporter of GA in Iceland and beyond its borders, and an energetic person who threw himself 100 percent into everything he did. As the leader of AOPA Iceland, Haraldur was an ideal role model and advocate for GA. He brought tremendous energy to flying and inspired everyone he met.

“Haraldur will be greatly missed.”

Former Secretary-General of IAOPA (AOPA’s international membership unit) Craig Spence said that Diego “would light up the room” at meetings, and that “he cared most about flying, Iceland, and spending time with people.”

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.

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21 COMMENTS

  1. This is one of those very “puzzling” accidents. Super-experienced pilot and no distress call. My mind jumps to medical incapacitation of the pilot, but that’s only because nothing else jumps out. I, and I’m sure many others, will be following this one.

    • My conclusion based on some other good comments here was different than yours.

      Either:
      1) The plane WAS over gross OR
      2) The pilot either didn’t have as much fuel as he should have for that flight or didn’t have the survival equipment that should’ve been on the plane (or both)

      Either of those scenarios would indicate questionable judgement.

  2. Well, let’s see now, besides the pilot, a local General Aviation notable, we had a 22 year old “American Skateboarder/YouTube star, a Belgian skydiver/social media influencer and the “sponsorship manager” for a Belgian fashion house aboard a Cessna 172. Regardless of the possible aircraft gross weight problem, could there have been pressure to push the envelope of the aircraft in the interest of obtaining entertaining video? I’m sure the cell phone cameras were in high gear during the flight, and an examination of their photos and videos should be revealing.

  3. Having rented numerous models of C-172’s over decades in many states, I recall twice taking off knowing there was, in one case, a frayed rudder cable well beyond its ‘service’ life and the other, many failed rivets on top of the wing likely due to past severe turbulence encounters. Was I dumb? Of course.

    In the Iceland case, I wonder the age of the aircraft, its service history and maintenance. If it was at a relatively low altitude over the lake, perhaps for interesting video, any failure would leave little time for corrective action nor a call over the radio. After all, first fly the airplane.

    Further, winter over Iceland can certainly bring icing, cloud, etc. to the detriment of flight, especially on an aircraft loaded to not much below certified maximum gross weight. I have carried four adults many times in Skyhawks, off grass and gravel strips and a pilot as experienced as Haraldur Diego would have no qualms in doing so either. So, we await the investigation for a cause, from fuel starvation, system or structural failure to pilot incapacitation.
    Our prayers for all whose lives were so sadly taken.

  4. Yes,blown cylinders or engine failures do happen.

    Flying over the rockies in a Baron one winters day,the heater wouldnt light up,after that i would speculate on winters twin engine accident ,but a Cessna 172 has a reliable heater

  5. It’s not clear if the bodies were found in 150 ft of water strapped in the plane or floating out of it.

    Did they crash and die on impact or ditch and succumbed to hypothermia?

    No distress call? 30 miles from Reykjavik?

    Maybe pilot incapacitation and the pax didn’t know how to react and/or call for help.

    Regardless our thoughts go out to the friends and families. RIP

  6. We will hopefully know after the investigation, which I suspect will be performed given the number and notability of those involved. Not really knowing the weights involved, I will note for the speculators that the bios would indicate below standard passenger weights. Skateboarder body types tend towards slim and compact.

    Fuel might have been appropriately calculated for low speed loitering increasing duration. I haven’t checked the weather, but I’m guessing it was too cold for icing and the flight should have been VFR for photography. Finally, most 172’s still have a hand mike which is rather intuitive.

    You can pretend I added a rant about the FAA and antique airplane designs. You’ve heard it all before.