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NTSB issues preliminary report about fatal Dec. 5 air crash near Medford airport

The National Transportation Safety Board on Friday released its preliminary report about the aviation accident on the afternoon of Dec. 5 involving a small aircraft that flew out of the Rogue Valley International-Medford Airport.

The accident resulted in the deaths of the pilot, Donald Harbert Sefton, 69, and passenger Valerie Jean Serpa, 67, both of Fallon, Nevada, when it crashed into the parking lot of Airport Chevrolet, which is located in the 3000 block of Biddle Road.

The six-page preliminary report explains that during a flight on Nov. 24 from Fallon to Medford, Sefton noticed that his Piper PA-31-350 Navajo Chieftain had been “leaking a large amount of fuel from the right wing-foot” so he arranged to have the aircraft repaired by a fixed based operator at the Medford airport.

Sefton and Serpa drove back to Fallon in a rented car and, after learning that the plane was ready, returned to Medford on Dec. 5 to retrieve it. They arrived in Medford at about 4 p.m. and Sefton had intended to fly home to Fallon with Serpa, according to the NTSB report.

The report doesn’t provide radio communication times between Sefton and the traffic controller and makes note of an inability to confirm the times — at least at this point in the investigation.

Because of dense clouds that covered the sky from the 200-feet to 2,500-feet above ground level, the controller advised Sefton to use his aircraft instruments and follow specific travel directions before taking the normal course out.

Sefton then asked the controller to read the information phonetically. The report states that those who knew Sefton said it was common practice for him “to ask people to clarify names and instructions.”

There was a final exchange between Sefton and the controller and, within seconds, “the controller stated that he was receiving a low-altitude alert that the airplane’s altitude was showing 1,700 feet. He made several attempts to reach the pilot with no response,” according to the NTSB report.

Sefton was shown to be at an increased air speed and a height of 2,250 feet. Within six seconds, however, the last radar return indicated the plane “was located about 990 ft north-northwest of the accident site.”

To download a PDF of the full NTSB preliminary report, visit the agency’s Twitter page NTSB_Newsroom. There is a post announcing the issuance of the report with a download link: go.usa.gov/xtgCX

The final accident report could take up to two years to complete, said Zoe Keliher, NTSB investigator in charge.