Pilot told to ‘lower nose’ seconds before fatal STOL crash

The NTSB has released its preliminary report on the accident that killed Tom Dafoe on May 20, 2022, who crashed his Cessna 140 airplane near the Wayne Municipal Airport (LCG) in Wayne, Nebraska, during a STOL event.

A representative with STOL Drag Events, who was a participant in the 2022 Wayne County Mayday STOL Drag Races, said that the day before the accident, the event began with a short takeoff and landing drag racing (STOL Drag) training conducted on a course next to runway 5-23.

Tom Dafoe had been signed off for competition at a prior STOL Drag event.

On the day of the accident, additional STOL Drag training was completed in the morning with qualifying STOL Drag races planned for later that afternoon. However, northwest gusting winds pushed the qualifiers to postpone the event until the next day.

After the decision to postpone was made, several competing pilots expressed a desire to perform traditional STOL (without any drag racing component) on the grass runway 31 given the favorable headwinds.

A safety briefing was held with STOL Drag representatives, FAA inspectors, and pilots that wanted to fly in the traditional STOL. A representative with STOL Drag informed the pilots that the flying was optional, and was not part of the formal competition.

In order to limit pattern congestion, aircraft were placed into groups of five.

Multiple witnesses and video/photographic evidence showed that Dafoe’s Cessna 140 was the last within the group of five, and two landings had been performed without incident.

During the third approach with the Cessna 140 on final approach and following a Zenith STOL 701 also on final, Dafoe’s aircraft descended and appeared to be lower than the airplane ahead.

Subsequently, the pitch attitude increased, and the aircraft rolled to the right and completed a three-quarter turn right spin, impacting terrain in a near-vertical attitude.

Four photographs show the right roll and descent of Dafoe’s Cessna 140 just before the crash on May 20, 2022. Photo courtesy of NTSB

The STOL Drag representative that coordinated the pattern operations over the radio reported that roughly 45 seconds prior to the accident, he told Dafoe over the radio to “lower your nose, you look slow.”

A second time, nearly 15 seconds before the accident, Dafoe was told over the radio to lower his nose, but the representative did not receive any communications from him. None of the other pilots in the pattern were talking on the radio near the time of the accident.

The aircraft came to rest roughly 1,600 feet from the threshold of Runway 31 and about 250 right of the extended centerline.

The primary surfaces of the Cessna 140 were intact, and the forward cowling and engine area were crushed aft into the cockpit. Flight control continuity was established from the cockpit to all flight control surfaces.

Fuel remained in both winds, there was no evidence of fire, and the fuel sector was found selected to the right tank. The throttle lever was found extended about 1 and ¾ of an inch and had fractured. The carburetor heat lever was found OFF. The flap handle and latch sustained impact damage and could not be correlated to a specific flap setting.

The airspeed indicator need was found to indicate about 57MPH and a rub mark at this speed was observed on the face of the instrument.

The left seat lap belt was found belted, but shoulder harnesses were not installed.

According to the report, the engine displayed various degrees of impact damage and the propeller was still attached to the hub. When the propeller was rotated by hand, crankshaft and camshaft continuity, and thumb compression were confirmed.

Both magnetos produced spark when rotated by an electric drill. The carburetor was found with fuel remaining in its bowl, which tested negative for water when water finding paste was applied. The mixture was safety wired to the full rich position. The carburetor heat baffle was found closed.

Around the time of the accident at Wayne Municipal airport, an hourly observation reported that wind was from 290° at 15 knots, gusting to 21 knots, which was consistent with the video that showed tall flags positioned at the runway threshold. The video showed that the gusting wind varied from about 290° to a direction nearly aligned with Runway 31.

At the time of the accident, an airport and Runway 31 closure NOTAM was in effect.

An FAA Certificate of Waiver had been issued to STOL Drag Events from May 19-22 to conduct “Competition STOL Drag (Straight Line Air Race, (Non-Closed Course) at Wayne Municipal Airport, Wayne, NE. All racing will be below 100’ AGL, within the defined limits of the course adjacent to Runway 05/23.”

The preliminary report will be replaced with a final report of the accident and its probable cause when the investigation is concluded.

PREVIOUS REPORTING: STOL competition halted after aviation great Tom Dafoe dies in crash

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