Malibu Crash Kills Five Family Members


Five members of a Georgia family, including two children, died in the crash of their Piper PA-46 Malibu in upstate New York on Sunday. The aircraft was headed from Oneonta, New York, to Atlanta with a fuel stop in West Virginia when it went down in a rural area in Delaware County just after 2 p.m. The Aviation Safety Network said an in-flight breakup preceded the crash.

The five victims were identified as Roger Beggs, 76; Laura VanEpps, 43; Ryan VanEpps, 42; James R. VanEpps, 12; and Harrison VanEpps, 10. They were all attending a baseball tournament in Cooperstown, New York. The NTSB is on the scene and some wreckage has been located. Weather reports in the area showed winds variable with gusts to 25 knots with no rain and temperatures near 80 degrees.

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.


  1. This accident and decision that lead to it bugs me. I looked at the historical weather data and the thunderstorm forecast was scattered and numerous along the entire route, starting with the departure. I don’t know of course what the sky looked at the time and perhaps on the east coast 12K (as filed in the flight plan) gets you over the storms. But even with a great plane like Malibu I would not take off into this weather. The only logical path I saw was to the west, not south.
    My thoughts and prayer go to the family.

  2. How many Malibu’s have to come apart in flight before the FAA steps in? It took one accident on an old, tired and modified 210 to create an onerous fleet wide AD on the wing spar for 210s and then 177s (which had not had a history of spar failures).

    • In 1991 the FAA did ground the Malibu to completely redo the certification. They finally determined that pilots were flying the airplane into weather it was not designed for.

    • Have you flown a Malibu? Do you know the accident statistics, the qualifications and experience of the pilots, the weather in the other accidents? What about the details of the full review by the FAA. I’ll informed sweeping comments like this are totally unhelpful.

  3. Malibu’s always looked to me as fragile as they are beautiful. Are their in flight break numbers higher than the norm?

  4. Having flown Malibu’s in pretty dismal weather and still typing this, makes me assume that the aircraft has a maneuvering speed, that allows the airframe to withstand even hefty turbulence. When it gets rough, we slow it down. At least thats what I was taught. Very sad to see a whole family erased. Delaying or cancelling a flight takes 5 seconds. Going anyways may take a whole lifetime. 😔

  5. Not all GA pilots are up to airline standards: in thinking or in actions. The result is a crash rate higher than the airlines. GA is not a hobby or interest one can take lightly or casually. The consequences of missteps can be very severe.

  6. Decision-making is the issue here. How about waiting a day for the weather to change and pass by? Better late than never!

  7. There was one report from the scene showing a detached piece of the aircraft next to a dirt road, I think some distance from the main wreckage. When I first saw it, I thought “Wing strut” like on a Cessna. But obviously, Malibus do not have those. Where was it located on the aircraft, I wonder? It obviously came off in the break up…

  8. Radar contact at 3300’ shows PF unable to maintain directional control. Over the mountains on the backside of a front with convective cells in the area, a stressful scenario for a single pilot.

  9. I did multi flight training in that area (based at Cooperstown NY) and have flown out of Oneonta numerous times. In any type of strong winds it can get very turbulent really fast until you get high. The hills in the area are sharp and plentiful. It made a great training environment because you always had to maintain positive control of the aircraft down low since a 100 ft change in altitude could mean a 20KT and 40 degree change in wind velocity and direction. A pilot unfamiliar with this could get into trouble quite easily.

  10. This immediately reminded me of a TBM 700 crash some years back that killed a family. The owner-pilot cavalierly told the controller that he would proceed straight ahead despite warnings of known icing, as it was no problem. The airplane came straight down on a highway median.
    Weather can kill, no matter what you’re flying. Look up the Braniff Airways crash or the Southern Airways DC-9 crash in Georgia.

    • Accident investigation found he had neglected to turn on the separator during the climb out, otw that TP would likely have made it through the ice layer. As for “coming straight down”, the pilot quit flying the plane. More than likely he panicked and failed to utilize simple spin/recovery skills, assuming he ever had them. There was no evidence to indicate in flight break up or control surface compromise (before impact).

    • About 18 months for the Final including the analyses and conclusions. They’ll issue a Preliminary factual report within a few weeks, but it will contain little more than you’d read in the newspapers.

  11. Have owned and put thousands of hours between Malibu and Meridian Pipers. Flying into mountainous terrain at that altitude likely got him into a serious mountain wave. It’s happened to me in clear skies on the back side of a front in the Cascades. Even on Full power could not maintain altitude.

    • Wave is much sought after by glider pilots because of the chance for extreme lift. However, it can be treacherous because it is truly a wave – a fast ascending air mass immediately adjacent to one that is rapidly descending. For a pilot not familiar with wave, the down side can be deadly. My instructor told me not to fly in it without an experienced instructor the first time because it was tricky to get out.

  12. Reported that the pilot was 76, possible medical event ? And we wonder insurance rates go up or no coverage after 70 ?

    • Anything’s possible, but so far there is zero/zip/nada/nil to suggest pilot incapacitation. So, by that standard, I suppose we should also be considering a Russian SAM or phaser beams from Mars.

  13. I have an instrument rating and fly mainly in the PNW, lots of mountains and icing. I’m not a professional pilot and the best advice I received years ago was to fly VFR on long cross countries. The flight windows are fewer, but seeing weather, along with NEXRAD, has kept me safe even with questionable decision making.

  14. If you look at a history of the Malibu , I looked at them and found at least 20 of them came out of the clouds in pieces. When they redesigned them to be a turboprop that strengthened them dramatically and the changes also went into the piston version. that version has not had a history of inflight breakups.

    My theory is that it was one of the planes that the new design tools could actually be used to design it ant they were able to actually make it strong enough to meet the 3.5 G requirements without the safety factor that was the safety factor added to older designs because they were not able to model it well enough. in severe turbulence the aircraft needed to be able to withstand much higher loads than 3.5G and older designs like the Cessna’s and Cherokees could withstand these loads. they proved it could withstand the design loads at the maneuvering speed but that speed is well below the normal cruise for that aircraft. I have a friend that lost his father in a Malibu in clear air 20 miles from a thunderstorm that hit a bump and it suffered a structural failure. In flying My Aerostar I have had that experience when out of nowhere a severe bump happened but as it was designed for higher loads and especially designed before the advent of the modern design tools it was no problem.

  15. I had listed one for a client during my brokering days. Previous owner caused some warping, but ‘wing was replaced’ was the logbook entry. Scared the willies out of me. I lost the listing thankfully and am glad I didn’t facilitate the sale – wondering what the state of that wing is now 10+ years later