Saturday, March 11, 2017

Challenger II: Fatal accident occurred March 11, 2017 at Oakdale Airport (O27), Stanislaus County, California

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

Additional Participating Entity: 
Federal Aviation Administration / Flight Standards District Office: Fresno, California

Aviation Accident Preliminary Report - National Transportation Safety Board:

NTSB Identification: WPR17FA077
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Saturday, March 11, 2017 in Oakdale, CA
Injuries: 1 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 March 11, 2017, about 1030 Pacific standard time, an unregistered experimental amateur-built Challenger II airplane, collided with a parked vehicle during landing at the Oakdale Municipal Airport (O27), Oakdale, California. The Commercial certificated pilot, sole occupant, was fatally injured and the airplane sustained substantial damage. The airplane was owned and operated by the pilot under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 as a personal local flight. Day visual meteorological conditions prevailed and no flight plan was filed.

The airport caretaker reported that the airplane departed from runway 10 and entered the left traffic pattern. He heard the airplane on downwind and stated that he didn't see the airplane on the final approach or landing, but heard an explosion, and responded to the accident site. 

Initial examination of the accident site revealed that the airplane landed in the runway safety area (RSA) leaving tire tracks about 200 feet in length in the dirt and gravel. The tracks veered left towards the visual approach slope indicator (VASI), continued over the taxiway and terminated where the airplane impacted a truck that was parked adjacent to a hangar. A postcrash fire insured. 

The airplane was recovered to a secured facility for further examination.   

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 

In April 2011, Leon Shaeffer gives flight instructions to passengers Apryl Neal and her children, Chandler and Autumn, prior to taking off at the Experimental Aircraft Association Chapter 90’s annual Young Eagles Flight Rally at the Oakdale Airport.

Even as he made a career focused on the ground, as a floor-coverings installer, her father’s eyes were on the sky, Deb Flewelling said.

“I know he was in aviation more than 50 years,” she said of Leon Shaeffer, 78, the Modesto pilot killed Saturday morning at the Oakdale Airport in a fiery plane crash after a hard landing. “He loved being in the air. ... There was a freedom he found there.”

He was flying a single-engine Challenger II CWS that he’d purchased in December, Flewelling said. “He owned several planes during his adult life,” she said. “He had a longtime dream to fly the Challenger and came to the point where he realized it was now or never.”

Shaeffer lived in Modesto more than 60 years, had well more than 10,000 flight hours and used to be a flight instructor at the Modesto Airport, Flewelling said.

He was a top-notch pilot who loved introducing youth to aviation, said friend and fellow Experimental Aircraft Association member Kevin Benziger. “He was well into the high hundreds in the number of children he flew through our Young Eagles program,” Oakdale resident Benziger said.

Shaeffer never before had any incidents, Benziger said. “This is a shock to us,” he said of the reaction as fellow members of EEA Chapter 90 in Oakdale learned of his death. “I know it was a pretty devastating day for me Saturday.”

Witnesses told authorities they saw the Challenger heading east toward the airport shortly before 10:30 a.m. Saturday. They said it may have had engine trouble before it landed.

One witness said he saw the plane coming in slow before it landed near the runway’s edge. He said the plane bounced a few times, but then the pilot appeared to regain control. Then the witness heard the plane crash into a pickup parked near a hangar. The truck later was determined also to be Shaeffer’s.

A National Transportation Safety Board spokesman said Monday afternoon that determining cause of the crash could take 12 to 18 months but a preliminary report could be on the NTSB site by next week.

A March 2016 fact sheet by the Federal Aviation Administration said amateur-built and other experimental aircraft accounted for about 5 percent of total general aviation fleet hours over the previous five years but were involved in over 25 percent of fatal general aviation accidents.

“With the help of outreach, updated safety materials developed by the FAA and GAJSC industry participants, and new policies, this segment of the GA industry is showing improvement,” the FAA sheet said. “Loss of control remains the leading cause of fatal accidents involving amateur-built aircraft.”

There are a lot of reasons pilots fly kit-built aircraft, Benziger said. For one, “when you fly a certified aircraft, you cannot do anything to that aircraft. The FAA will not allow to you to alter it or even do maintenance – you have to be a certified technician to work on a certified plane.”

But with an experimental, or kit-built, or amateur-built – they all mean the same, he said – the pilot can make modifications. It’s that love of building, of working with your hands and creating something, that attracts a lot of people to kit-built aircraft, Benziger said.

“My father loved to fly and I don’t think it really mattered to him what he was flying,” Flewelling said, “but he always did have a fascination with experimental planes.”

Benziger said he doesn’t care for the term “experimental” because it sounds as though pilots are throwing together some pieces of wood, covering them with fabric and trying to get them into the air.

“You have to know what you’re doing,” he said. “With kit planes, you follow instructions and you get an FAA inspection along the way to ensure it’s being done correctly.”

And aircraft kits are exhaustively engineered, Benziger said, because no kit company wants to be accused of doing anything wrong.

Another lure of kit-built aircraft is cost, he said. “A lot of times with some of these experimental craft, is you were to buy a similar certified one, it would be 20 times the cost.”

Shaeffer is survived by his wife of 43 years, Danna, six children, 25 grandchildren and 16 great-grandchildren, Flewelling said.

Read more here:

A man was killed Saturday when the plane he was in collided with a pickup near a hangar following a reported “hard” landing at Oakdale Airport.

At about 10:30 a.m., witnesses said they saw the plane traveling east toward the airport.

Battalion Chief Eric DeHart of the Stanislaus Consolidated Fire Protection District said the plane is a Challenger II CWS, which he described as an “experimental plane.” He said it had been flying in the area for about 30 minutes before landing.

It was a single-engine plane, according to a news release from the Oakdale Police Department. Witnesses told police there may have been engine trouble prior to landing. The victim’s name is being withheld until officials can notify his family.

Johnny Freitas, a contractor working on a house on nearby Wren Road, said he saw the plane coming in slowly before making a landing he described as “a little hard.” He has been working to get his helicopter pilot’s license and had been watching planes come in and out while doing concrete work at the home over the past week.

“I noticed something odd about that plane … he was coming in slow,” Freitas said. “He landed very close to the edge of the runway when he came in, bounced a few times and then it looked like he had control, so I went back to work. Then I heard a bang, and that’s when we saw some smoke and jumped in the pickup and got over as fast as we could to try to help in any way we could, but it was too late.”

Freitas and another contractor, Cameron Abicht, drove up a dirt road to the airport and hopped a chain-link fence.

“Once we rounded the corner and got on the taxiway, that is when we felt the heat,” Abicht said. The plane and pickup were on fire. “Obviously you have two fuel tanks; stuff was popping and flying up in the air, there were flames everywhere.”

They saw the man moving and tried to get to him but the fire was too intense. A man who’d been working on his plane in the neighboring hangar used a fire extinguisher to no avail.

Firefighters with the Stanislaus Consolidated Fire Protection District arrived quickly on scene and kept the flames from extending into the nearby hangar.

As Freitas and Abicht waited to talk to authorities, they thought mostly about the man’s family and reflected on how his day started “enjoying the fruits of his labor” on a beautiful, sunny Saturday.

“It was something I could have gone without seeing,” Abicht said. “It was very, very sad, very surreal. I just feel bad for his family. That is the hardest part.”


STANISLAUS COUNTY ( CBS13) — Authorities are investing  a fatal crash at the Oakdale Airport in Stanislaus County.

The pilot was trying to land his plane Saturday morning when he crashed, causing the plane to go up in flames. He did not survive. 

The coroner has not released the man’a identity. The only description given was he was an experienced pilot who has been using this airport for years.

”Witnesses indicated to police there may have been engine trouble prior to landing,” said Janeen Yates with the Oakdale Police Department. 

Upon landing, the Quad City Challenger II CWS crashed into a pickup truck and busted into flames near a hangar on the north end of a runway.

When police arrived, the plane and the truck were engulfed in flames. 

“You can see the rubber tires’ traction curve towards his truck, which was parked in front of his hangar,” said Don Gutridge, the caretaker at the Oakdale airport.

Witnesses told police it appeared that the plane’s engine may have malfunctioned and that the pilot was struggling.

“Witnesses heard the engine sputtering,” said Gutridge. “There were parts that were found around, but nothing on the runway. So it seemed like something was wrong mechanically.”

Following their initial investigation, Oakdale police still don’t know if the pilot made contact with the air traffic control.

“That’s unknown. I don’t know if there was any type of correspondence between the pilot and the air traffic controller,” said Yates.

An Investigator with the NTSB came up from Phoenix. He will return Sunday morning with a team from the FAA. They will now take the lead into investigating the cause of the fatal crash.

Story and video:

National Transportation Safety Board and  Federal Aviation Administration will be conducting the investigation into the cause of a single-engine aircraft crash that claimed the life of the pilot on Saturday morning, March 11.

Oakdale Police received multiple 911 calls regarding an aircraft that had crashed and was on fire at the Oakdale Airport. 

Oakdale Police along with Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department, Stanislaus Consolidated Fire and Oak Valley Ambulance responded and arrived on scene at approximately 10:30 a.m. and discovered a small single-engine aircraft was fully engulfed in flames along with the pickup that it had collided with. 

The plane crash occurred in front of the western-most hangar on the north side of the runway.

Witnesses indicated to police there may have been engine troubles prior to the crash.

The pilot was pronounced dead at the scene.

The pilot’s identification is pending notification to the immediate family.

The body was released to the Stanislaus County Coroner’s Office.


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