NTSB Issues Preliminary Report in Fatal MayDay STOL Drag Crash

Pilot Tom Dafoe was reportedly advised twice to lower his airplane’s nose because he looked slow.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) released a preliminary report this week on the fatal crash at the MayDay STOL Drag competition at Wayne Municipal-Stan Morris Field (KLCG) in Wayne, Nebraska.

According to the report, before crashing, the pilot received two warnings to lower the nose of the aircraft because it appeared to be flying too slow.

The accident took the life of Tom Dafoe, age 45. An experienced backcountry pilot, Dafoe was flying a 1946 Cessna 140. The accident happened in the fourth heat of an impromptu traditional STOL pickup match that was not originally part of the STOL Drag competition.

The aircraft participating in the event were utilizing Runway 31. The weather at the time of the accident was reported as winds from 290 degrees at 15 knots, gusting to 21 knots. 

Four photographs showing the right roll and descent [Courtesy: NTSB]

Video of the event shows Dafoe flying behind a Zenith STOL 701. Dafoe’s aircraft appears to be lower than the aircraft he is following on final approach.

According to the NTSB report, a STOL representative who was using a handheld radio to contact the pilots transmitted to Dafoe approximately 45 seconds before the accident: “Lower your nose, you look slow.” 

Approximately 15 seconds later, the warning was repeated. Video of the event shows the Cessna 140 pitching up slightly, then rolling to the right and entering a spin at 300 feet agl from which it did not recover.

The report notes that Dafoe did not respond to either communication. It also notes that no other pilots in the competition were using their radios.

On the day of the accident, STOL Drag training had been completed in the morning but the qualifying STOL Drag races that were planned for the afternoon were postponed until the next day because of the gusting winds.

The report states: “After the postponement decision was made, several of the 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 planned to fly in the traditional STOL. A representative with STOL Drag informed the pilots that the flying was optional, and it was not a part of the formal competition.”

In order to limit pattern congestion, multiple groups of five airplanes were organized. According to multiple witnesses and video/photographic evidence of the accident, Dafoe’s Cessna 140 was the last airplane within the group of five, and he had performed two landings without incident.

The aircraft came to rest approximately 1,600 feet from the runway. The investigation did not uncover any pre-impact mechanical issues. 

A GoFundMe account has been established for Dafoe’s family, including his wife and five children.

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