Monday, December 26, 2016

Express S90, N176PA: Fatal accident occurred December 26, 2016 near Sierra Sky Park Airport (E79), Fresno, California

The National Transportation Safety Board traveled to the scene of this accident.

William A. Huene:


William Arthur Huene 

FAA Flight Standards District Office: FRESNO, CALIFORNIA 

Aviation Accident Preliminary Report -  National Transportation Safety Board:

NTSB Identification: WPR17FA041
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Monday, December 26, 2016 in Fresno, CA
Aircraft: PETRUS DAVID WAYNE S90, registration: N176PA
Injuries: 2 Fatal.

This is preliminary information, subject to change, and may contain errors. Any errors in this report will be corrected when the final report has been completed. NTSB investigators either traveled in support of this investigation or conducted a significant amount of investigative work without any travel, and used data obtained from various sources to prepare this aircraft accident report.

On December 26, 2016, about 1318 Pacific standard time, an experimental amateur-built Express S-90, N176PA, was destroyed when it departed controlled flight and impacted terrain shortly after takeoff from runway 30 at Sierra Sky Park Airport (E79, Fresno, California. The private pilot/owner and his passenger received fatal injuries. The personal flight was conducted under the provisions of Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed at the time of the accident.

E79 is a residential airpark; the pilot had a residence on E79, and based his airplane there. According to the pilot's wife, the passenger was a family friend, and the flight was to be a local pleasure flight.

Several witnesses saw or heard portions of the flight and/or accident sequence, but their accounts were not completely consistent. All agreed that the airplane was in the initial climbout portion of its takeoff when it made a rapid or sudden right turn. Accounts of the airplane's specific motions after that initial right turn varied, but all witnesses reported that the airplane descended rapidly towards the ground soon very shortly thereafter. Most reported a nose-down attitude during the descent, and one witness qualified the descent as "falling." Two witnesses, who were not pilots, and who were co-located about 1,200 feet northwest of the departure end of the runway, reported that the airplane was "low" when it was first observed, and that it then made the sudden right turn. Several other witnesses, some of whom were pilots, reported that the airplane climbed abnormally steeply after liftoff, and then began the sudden right turn that was followed shortly thereafter by a rapid descent and impact. Some witnesses reported that the engine sounded normal, while others reported a decrease in power (noise) and/or "popping" sounds. Immediately after the accident, several witnesses telephoned 911 and then attempted to access the accident site to render assistance. There was no fire.

The airplane impacted in marshy ground at the shoreline of a lake that adjoined the San Joaquin River. The wreckage came to rest about 70 feet from the initial impact point, and the direction of travel between those two points was 265 degrees True. The accident location was 900 feet, on a bearing of 28 degrees True, from the threshold of runway 12. The accident site elevation was 239 feet above mean sea level, which was about 80 feet below the elevation of E79.

The composite airplane came to rest in three major pieces, which remained partially attached to one another; there were the wings, the engine and cockpit, and the aft fuselage. The two wings remained attached to one another, and came to rest approximately perpendicular to the ground, leading edge down. The engine and attached propeller were fully immersed in the water and underlying mud/silt, with the significantly deformed and fractured cockpit remnants mostly above the waterline. The aft fuselage came to rest inverted.

The pilot held a private pilot certificate with an airplane single-engine land rating. According to the pilot's logbook, he began flight training in 1996, and received his pilot certificate in 1997. He accrued about 150 hours total in several airplanes, including Cessna 150 and 172, and Piper PA-38 and 28R models. In 2002 he accrued about 24 hours in a Velocity, and then ceased flying until 2011. In August 2016, when he had a total flight experience of about 187 hours, the pilot purchased N176PA, and logged his first flight in the accident airplane make and model, which was the accident airplane. Excluding the accident flight, he logged a total of 31.1 hours in that airplane. The pilot's total flight experience at the time of the accident was about 218 hours.

The fixed gear, high performance airplane was designed and marketed by Composite Aircraft Technology. N176PA was built by a third party in 2004, and had several different owners before it was purchased by the accident pilot. The airplane was equipped with a Lycoming IO-540 series engine and a Hartzell 3-blade propeller. According to the maintenance records, the most recent condition inspection was completed in May 2016.

The 1315 automated weather observation at Fresno Chandler Executive Airport (FCH), located 8 miles south of E79, included visibility 10 miles, clear skies, temperature 10 degrees C, dew point 3 degrees C, and an altimeter setting of 30.28 inches of mercury. Meteorological conditions at Fresno-Yosemite Air Terminal (FAT), located 8 miles southeast of E79, were similar, with winds from 310 degrees at 5 knots.

Those who may have information that might be relevant to the National Transportation Safety Board investigation may contact them by email, and any friends and family who want to contact investigators about the accident should email

Bill Huene and David Deel were flying home from an overnight trip to Southern California in September of 2002 when Deel said a part of the plane's engine fell off. 

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- Bill Huene and David Deel were flying home from an overnight trip to Southern California in September of 2002 when Deel said a part of the plane's engine fell off.

The two crash-landed in a field just south of Fresno before the experimental plane caught fire.

Deel said, "I didn't really know what was going on except for the sounds and the shuttering because the engine's behind us."

Deel said his pilot friend was shaken after the accident and they never flew together after that day, but Huene's love for flying eventually returned.

"It took him awhile to get over that and then he did go out and get his license re-certified and he's been doing it since then."

Deel is still reeling from the news of Monday's plane crash. He and Huene have been friends since they were 14, and even though they went to different high schools they saw each other every week at church youth group.

Huene was the best man in Deel's wedding; not a week went by where they did not talk or text either other. Just two weeks ago the two met for lunch at Chandler Airport.

"They had just reopened their restaurant out there and he wanted to go out there and check it out. It was by the airport and we both liked to watch the planes go in and out."

Deel said the two men talked about their kids, he has two boys and a girl and Huene has two girls, and they talked about their plans for Christmas.

The family has not released any information yet about funeral arrangements. Autopsies on both Huene and Chase Splan, his passenger in the plane, are scheduled to be complete Wednesday.

Story and video:

The wreckage of the plane involved in Monday's fatal accident that killed two people in Northwest Fresno, was removed from the San Joaquin river Wednesday. Meanwhile, we take a look back at a tragedy the same pilot avoided 14 years ago.  William Huene spoke with Eyewitness News just moments after he and a passenger walked away from a plane as it exploded in 2002.

His first brush with disaster played out in the skies just above Fresno 14 years ago.  William "Bill" Huene was forced to make an emergency landing in a field just east of Highway 99.  He and a passenger made it out unharmed, just before the plane burst into flames.

In a 2002 interview, Huene said, "You know it all happened so quickly. As far as I'm aware, the engine did quit.  It had no air pressure."

Huene's interview was captured by our cameras in 2002 as the pilot's plane burned up behind him.  His wife and then baby daughter were by his side, thankful a tragedy had been avoided.  So was his passenger.

David Deel says in a 2002 interview, ""All of a sudden the plane started to flutter and it shook really hard."

More than a decade later, Huene's passenger and close friend David Deel, relived the moments in an interview Tuesday.

"The engine of the plane was the issue, not the plane itself. It was kind of a scary thing," says Deel.

In an interview at the scene moments after the plane went down Deel said, "We're okay. Just a little shaken up.  No bruises, no broken bones."

Deel says it took years before Huene would fly again.  But, eventually the pilot's passion brought him back into the skies.  On Monday, the 47 year old husband and father of two,  took his last flight when his plane crashed into the San Joaquin River, killing him and his passenger 32 year old Chase Splan, also a husband and father of two.

"It's kind of hard.  I haven't really got my head around the while thing yet.  It's going be hard. He always wanted to help you out any way he could."

Huene's wife also praised her husband for his piloting skills following the 2002 incident.

"Give him nothing short of full credit for the success of this landing."

And even after his passing, those skills and the type of person Huene was, are being remembered.

Eyewitness News has learned that both of Huene's planes involved in the separate incidents were home-built air crafts.  According to a neighbor, Huene had just purchased the plane he was flying Monday in august this year.  We're told it was the first plane the pilot owned since his last one was destroyed in that fire back in 2002.

Story and video:

An investigator from the National Transportation Safety Board arrived in Fresno on Tuesday morning to begin the investigation of the crash of a light airplane in which two men died Monday afternoon after taking off from Sierra Sky Park in northwest Fresno.

The investigator’s arrival coincided with the identification of the pilot of the Express S-90 plane as William Huene, 47, of Fresno, by the Fresno County coroner. Huene died along with family friend Chase Splan, 32, also of Fresno, after the Express S-90 experimental aircraft took off from Sierra Sky Park about 1:30 p.m. and plunged into the San Joaquin River moments later.

Fresno County sheriff’s spokesman Tony Botti said autopsies on the victims are scheduled for Wednesday morning. Pete Knudson, a spokesman for the NTSB, said a preliminary report on the crash would likely be completed in two weeks.

Huene was a resident of Sierra Sky Park, located along the San Joaquin River near Herndon and Brawley avenues, a subdivision created after World War II as a pioneering community of fly-in homes. He was involved in another plane crash in 2002 when he was forced to land in a cornfield southwest of Fresno when the engine on his plane lost power while on his way back to the sky park. The plane caught fire, but Huene and his passenger escaped unharmed. The passenger, David Deel, praised Huene’s skills after that incident.

Kathy Gregory, who lives at a home on the San Joaquin River Bluffs directly behind where Huene’s plane went down Monday, said she was a friend of Huene. She said she couldn’t believe the crash occurred.

“We heard the airplane take off,” she said. “Then silence. That’s not good – silence.”

“I liked Bill,” she said of Huene. Gregory said she recalled discussing the 2002 crash with Huene and remembered that he said he would not fly again after it occurred.

Gregory said she and her husband, like most who live in the sky park, were also pilots, although she did not fly anymore.

A man who also lives at the sky park was walking his dog near the crash site Tuesday. Not surprisingly, he also knew Huene as a neighbor and friend. He declined to identify himself to The Bee, but described the plane Huene was flying as a “top-notch” aircraft.

Knudson, the NTSB spokesman, described the Express S-90 as a “home-built” experimental aircraft. But that did not mean that there was anything wrong with the craft or its design, according to the neighbor, who described flying an experimental plane as something like having a high-performance automobile.

“One-third of the people out here have experimental planes,” he said.

Plane and Pilot magazine describes the Express S-90 as an “all composite, low-wing, fixed-gear monoplane that subscribes to the high-tech school of kit-built aircraft.” It says the plane can seat four with a top speed of 240 mph and travel 1,400 miles without refueling.

The neighbor said Monday’s crash was the first double fatal incident to take place at the sky park. He recalled another fatal crash, which he said occurred several decades ago, when a pilot took off in the fog and crashed into the river.

Several other crashes by planes taking off or landing at the airport have been reported in recent years, including a 2012 incident, in which an ultralight aircraft was forced to land in a field just west of the sky park. The pilot was not injured.

In 2002, pilot Alan Tolle survived a flight that began at the sky park and ended at Avenue 10 and Road 32 in Madera County. Although the left wing and engine were sheared off in the crash near a vineyard, Tolle suffered only a cut finger.


FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) --  The wreckage was visible in sight of neighbors and friends in the close knit community of airplane enthusiasts. Terry Roberts recalls hearing, then seeing, the plane fly over his home just before it went down.

"All of the sudden I hear a very loud plane coming it, it was going pop, pop, pop, pop."

The pilot, William Huene, and passenger, , are presumed to have died on impact. The wreckage was upside down on the edge of a large pond in a state wildlife refuge just below the Skypark.

"A sad day for the family and friends-- prayers and wishes go out to the family members and the community," said Roberts.

An investigator from the National Transportation Safety Board is on the scene.

We spoke with NTSB spokesman Peter Knudsen by phone from Washington.

"What he's going to be focusing on is documenting the accident site and any perishable evidence; this will include recovering the aircraft."

A preliminary report will take about a week, but final findings may take up to a year.

The plane, an Express S 90, is considered experimental, which means it's assembled from a kit. Many of the pilots out here build their own planes and the NTSB said they are not necessarily less safe than factory built planes.

"The statistics on overall accident rates are not terribly different from manufactured aircraft, there are some differences but overall it's a very similar accident rate," said Knudsen.

Pilot William Huene was involved in another crash near Fresno in 2002. He and his passenger escaped injury.

Chase Splan, a young husband and father, lost his father Paul in the crash of an ultralight aircraft near Tracy 9 years ago.

The NTSB plans to remove the wreckage as soon as possible and take it to a secure location where the investigation can continue.

Friends of the pilot told us he had only recently acquired the plane. According to the FAA it was certified just two years ago.


Two people died Monday in the crash of a single-engine airplane that had just taken off from Sierra Sky Park in northwest Fresno.

Wreckage from the plane was visible at the edge of a pond just north of Sierra Sky Park’s runway. Fire and law enforcement agencies had to navigate narrow roads and trails to get to the crash scene near San Joaquin Country Club.

Fresno Fire reported that two people were on board the plane. They confirmed Monday afternoon that both occupants had died. Their identities have not been released.

Krystal Kerkezian said she was in her backyard and saw the plane take off. Then it made a hard right maneuver and plunged directly into the water.

Her husband Mike drove to the end of Milburn Avenue and ran about a mile to the crash site, where he joined three other men trying to rescue the occupants. They could see no one moving in the aircraft.

A chaplain was called to the crash scene. Later, a Fresno County Coroner’s van was parked nearby as firefighters and rescue crews circled the fallen aircraft, which was also leaking fuel into the pond.

The National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration are investigating. NTSB investigators were reportedly on their way to the crash scene Monday night.

The plane was an Express S-90 amateur-built experimental aircraft registered to William A. Huene, whose address is in Sierra Sky Park, according to FAA records. Authorities have not said who was piloting the aircraft when it went down.

The crash comes three years to the day after another fatal plane crash in Fresno. On Dec. 26, 2013, a 72-year-old Tehachapi man and his 8-year-old nephew from Fresno died when the plane they were in clipped a 62-foot-tall tree near the runway at Chandler Downtown Airport and crashed. Killed were Timothy Lowell Farmer and his nephew, Finn Thompson.

Sierra Sky Park has had its own share of aircraft mishaps over the years.

In August 2014, a single-engine plane attempting to land at the park’s airstrip plowed through one fence bordering Herndon Avenue, then smashed into a fence on the other side of normally busy Herndon. Miraculously, no one was hurt.

In October 2008, a single-engine plane flew into the side of a furniture truck along Herndon Avenue as the plane was trying to land at Sierra Sky Park. The pilot was unscathed. A month and a half later, a pilot who had just taken off from the airstrip developed engine trouble and put the plane safely down on a nearby golf course. That pilot also was unhurt.

In 2002, Huene – the registered owner of the experimental plane that crashed Monday – was forced to land in a corn field southwest of Fresno when his engine lost power. He and a friend were on their way back to Sierra Sky Park when the mishap occurred. On landing, the plane caught fire, but Huene and his passenger escaped unharmed, with the passenger, David Deel, praising Huene’s pilot skills.

Said Deel at the time: “He got us down, didn’t he?”


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