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NTSB: Lack of fuel caused unlicensed pilot to crash in 2019

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The National Transportation Safety Board recently released this photo of an experimental aircraft’s wreckage following a crash near Prospect in January 2019. The pilot, who was reportedly unlicensed and lacked formal training, sustained severe injuries in the crash. [FAA photo via NTSB]

A National Transportation Safety Board report filed in October revealed new details about a 2019 plane crash near Prospect that involved an experimental aircraft and an unlicensed pilot.

Steven Paul Dawson Jr., 37, sustained serious injuries and spent a night in the wilderness after his amateur-built Whittman W-8 Tailwind airplane crashed after taking off from the Prospect airport the evening of Jan. 28, 2019.

Dawson had brought the kit-built aircraft to the Prospect airport in pieces using a “boom truck” three days before the crash, according to the NTSB Aviation Accident Factual Report issued about the crash.

Dawson attached the wings to the fuselage, and spent several days doing engine maintenance “without help from any other individual,” according to an aviation safety investigator’s report.

Dawson did not have a pilot’s license, according to the FAA.

At about 5:45 p.m. Jan. 28 — about 20 minutes after sunset — Dawson took off from Runway 20, and struck one of the runway lights on the way up.

The Prospect airport caretaker told investigators that Dawson left his truck running on a runway ramp with a door open when he took off, according to the report, along with “tools scattered over the ramp surface.”

When Dawson didn’t return after 20 minutes, the Prospect airport caretaker grew concerned and called 911.

The next day, a Brim Aviation helicopter team found the wreckage in dense brush about 2 miles southeast of the airport. Dawson sustained serious leg injuries in the crash, according to the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office.

Helicopter rescuers used a long line to extract Dawson from the aircraft, and carried him to a Mercy Flights ground ambulance.

After the crash, Dawson reportedly told the airport caretaker that he believed his plane lost power in the air due a problem with the plane’s two magnetos — the part that powered spark plugs for the plane’s single engine.

A company named Aircraft Magneto Service, however, tested the plane’s two mags for the NTSB, and found them to be fully functional.

The company that recovered wreckage, however, pointed to another reason why the plane lost power in the air: no fuel.

Nu Venture Air Services of Dallas, Oregon, told the NTSB that the plane’s fuel tank was empty, and that crews found no signs of any fuel leaks.

Dawson never submitted a pilot incident report form to the NTSB after the crash, according to the investigation report.

The NTSB said it made multiple attempts “to contact the non-rated pilot to discuss the accident, and to secure the airframe and engine logbooks for inspection,” but investigators “were unsuccessful.”

According to an earlier news report, Dawson had flown at least two other aircraft in poor condition from the Grants Pass and Illinois Valley airports prior to the crash.

After one particularly close call that damaged thousands of dollars worth of runway lights at the Grants Pass airport in September 2018, Josephine County Airport Director Larry Graves resorted to locking and chaining up Dawson’s orange, open-cockpit plane held together with duct tape.

Reach web editor Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or nmorgan@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @MTwebeditor.

The National Transportation Safety Board released this photo of the January 2019 plane crash near Prospect as part of its accident report released in late October. The pilot, who was reportedly unlicensed and lacked any formal training, sustained severe injuries in the crash. [Federal Aviation Administration photo via NTSB]
The National Transportation Safety Board released this view of the engine and propeller damaged in a January 2019 plane crash near Prospect as part of its accident report released in late October. The pilot, who was reportedly unlicensed and lacked any formal training, sustained severe injuries in the crash. [Federal Aviation Administration photo via NTSB]
The National Transportation Safety Board released this photo showing the forward right side of the plane involved in a January 2019 crash near Prospect as part of its accident report released in late October. The pilot, who was reportedly unlicensed and lacked any formal training, sustained severe injuries in the crash. [Jackson County Sheriff’s Office photo via NTSB]
The National Transportation Safety Board released this photo of a January 2019 plane crash near Prospect as part of its accident report released in late October. The pilot, who was reportedly unlicensed and lacked any formal training, sustained severe injuries in the crash. [Jackson County Sheriff’s Office photo via NTSB]
The National Transportation Safety Board released this overhead view of a January 2019 plane crash near Prospect as part of its accident report released in late October. The pilot, who was reportedly unlicensed and lacked any formal training, sustained severe injuries in the crash. [Jackson County Sheriff’s Office photo via NTSB]