An NTSB final report into the fatal crash at an impromptu STOL competition in Nebraska in May of 2022 suggests the FAA inspectors onsite could have prevented the tragedy by enforcing rules already established for the STOL drag race that was supposed to be going on. The accident occurred during an unofficial STOL competition that was organized onsite when gusty winds from the wrong direction forced postponement of the formally organized drag competition, a three-day event involving dozens of competitors.
FAA inspectors there to supervise the STOL drag racing meet approved the ad hoc STOL contest that was pulled together by competitors and event organizers. The NTSB said the inspectors didn’t apply flight safety conditions, such as wind limitations and mandatory training, set for the main competition, to the spur-of-the-moment event. “Had risk mitigations like those that were planned for the STOL Drag event been in place and adhered to by the event and the FAA personnel present it is possible that the accident could have been avoided,” the report says. Thomas Dafoe was setting up for his third landing of the ad hoc contest when the 140 stalled and spun from low altitude with no hope of recovery.
The report also says “competition pressure” felt by the pilot likely played a role in the accident. The 140 was behind a slower aircraft on final for the landing competition and the pilot appeared to be trying to maintain separation with the aircraft in front. If he couldn’t keep his distance, he would have had to go around. Another factor cited by the report is that the pilot didn’t use flaps for the third landing attempt although they had been deployed on his first two attempts. Flaps would have given him about five knots, according to the report. Investigators couldn’t determine if Dafoe forgot the flaps or decided not to extend them because of the gusty conditions.