Pilot Departs Aircraft, Damages Tail In Fatal Crash


A pilot who may have been trying to do an in-flight visual inspection of his Bearhawk Patrol’s control surfaces was killed in the process and also doomed the safety pilot he had with him. The NTSB’s final report into the crash of the homebuilt on Oct. 29, 2022, in Hanover Township, Pennsylvania, attributes the accident to “the pilot’s decision to unlatch his seatbelt during flight, which allowed him to exit the airplane and impact the tail, resulting in a loss of control and impact with terrain.” The report says when the pilot hit the tail, the aircraft became uncontrollable and the pilot-rated passenger didn’t have a chance.

The pilot was seen securing his seatbelt before the flight and he’d told a friend that he thought he had a rigging issue that caused the plane to yaw during turns. The NTSB said it’s possible the pilot was “attempting to observe the problem with the tail” and either fell out of the plane or bumped the controls, causing the plane to abruptly pitch up and eject him from the plane. “Although the reason for the pilot’s exit from the airplane during flight could not be determined, his impact with the tail section of the airplane during flight resulted in substantial damage to the tail section and a subsequent loss of control during flight from which the pilot-rated passenger would not have been able to recover.”

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. Sad to hear.

    When I flew a 182 jump plane I wore a parachute for this possibility and for the risk of a static line getting caught in a tail surface. I never heard of it ever happening, though.

    • Given that the pilot was 76, I’m pretty sure he wasn’t procreating so technically he’s not a candidate for a Darwin award as his genes are still in the gene pool.

    • Precisely! Chuck Aaron, pilot of the aerobatic helicopter, convinced that it’s safe to do it by mounting a GoPro on his main shaft:


  2. Why not do a thorough inspection on the ground? Hire a mechanic? There must have been something not right that could have been figured out by wiggling, looking, listening, etc. My first thought was, “You gotta be sh!tting me”, then “What a maroon”, credit to Bugs Bunny.

    Sympathy for the friend who went along for the ride. I would have politely declined and tried to convince the pilot to ground the airplane.

    • If you can *see* aero effects, Adrian Newey will be retiring soon, you can make ten million a year.

  3. One would think that even a hand held mirror would have been able to determine SOMETHING.
    I am try VERY hard to imagine what a rigging problem could be that could not be ascertained on the ground, though…

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    Although having a Sonex with a canopy which ‘shall not’ be open during flight I cannot understand why anyone would unfasten their safety belt in a non-transport category aircraft. I’ve mounted inexpensive sport cameras outside my experimental to observe gear, flight control deflections, oil leaks, and maneuvers to include spins & recoveries plus other Phase 1 testing. Wheel pants tend to make tires “spin with the wind” depending on aircraft speed, and I’ve only lost one camera having hours of external camera flight.

    For less than $30 anyone can have a remote camera (not as good as a GoPro) which is more than adequate to observe “unseen” areas of your aircraft during flight and testing. Let the rest of us learn from this unfortunate accident.


  5. Every one who says a GoPro and a selfie stick would have saved lives is spot on, as well as wiggles on the ground in the first place. A stab or surface isn’t going to do anything in the air that it hasn’t already telegraphed on the ground. Sailplane pilots do a positive control check, that is they move the surfaces with resistance to make sure it’s all connected. Taking off with a plane that you strongly suspect isn’t airworthy and then testing in the air to make sure it really is un-airworthy is a mistake of judgment, not suicide (which is a terrible thing to suggest knowing that family members can read this). There are plenty of people who have not been secured in planes that have met an end. . . that jump co-pilot a couple of years ago comes to mind.

    • And this, which adds to the “you can figure this out from the ground” debate: Left rudder continuity was established from the cockpit rudder pedals to the rudder control horn; however, right rudder continuity could only be established from the cockpit rudder pedals to the cable end loop, which was not attached to the clevis at the rudder control horn. The clevis was opened and hanging from the control horn, and the clevis pin was located nearby.