Saturday, May 09, 2020

Bellanca 8GCBC Scout, N4116Y: Fatal accident occurred May 09, 2020 at Byron Airport (C83), Contra Costa County, California

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. 

The National Transportation Safety Board did not travel to the scene of this accident.

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

Location: Byron, CA
Accident Number: WPR20LA141
Date & Time: 05/09/2020, 1319 PDT
Registration: N4116Y
Injuries: 1 Fatal
Flight Conducted Under: Part 91: General Aviation - Glider Tow 

On May 9, 2020, about 1319 Pacific daylight time, a Bellanca 8GCBC, N4116Y, was destroyed when it was involved in an accident at Byron Airport (C83), Byron, California. The pilot was fatally injured. The airplane was operated as a Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 glider tow flight.

The pilot of the glider being towed reported to the National Transportation Safety Board investigator-in-charge that the accident flight was his second flight of the day. He stated that a pre-takeoff checklist was performed and that he verified the gliders canopy was closed and locked. Following a normal takeoff, the tow airplane pilot initiated a slight right turn, and shortly after, the glider canopy opened. The pilot stated that the canopy began "flapping" open and closed and he attempted to secure it and control the glider. He added that he briefly became disoriented and turned back toward the airport.

A witness stated that the visibility from the glider to the tow airplane "appeared to potentially have been an issue, as there was a 30-40° angle on the tow line." The witness added that as both the tow airplane and glider neared the end of the runway, the tow pilot cut the tow line, however, was in an "aggressive nose-low attitude" and impacted the ground shortly after in a "45° nose-low attitude."

Airport security camera recordings, as shown in figure 1, captured the accident sequence. The recordings showed that the tow airplane became airborne about mid length of the runway and proceeded in a shallow climb with the glider in trail and at a similar altitude. About 7 seconds after the tow airplane became airborne, the glider pitched upward and ascended, while the tow airplane remained in a shallow climb. About 3 seconds later when the tow airplane began a shallow descent. About 2 seconds later, the tow airplane and glider appeared to remain level, with the glider at a higher altitude than the tow airplane, for about 4 seconds, when the tow airplane and glider appeared to descend. The glider began to ascend about 4 seconds later, while the tow airplane pitched downward to a nose low attitude, impacted the runway, and nosed over, where a post impact fire ensued. The glider executed a 180° right turn and landed on runway 12 uneventfully.

Figure 1: Screen shots of the accident sequence from an airport security camera.

Examination of the accident site by a Federal Aviation Administration inspector revealed that the airplane impacted the departure end of runway 30 and came to rest inverted. The fabric covering of the airplane was mostly consumed by fire, however, the primary structure of the wings, fuselage, and empennage were intact. All flight control cables appeared to remain attached to their respective flight controls. Photos provided by wreckage recovery personnel showed that the rope cutting mechanism on the tow airplane was engaged. Airport management reported that the tow rope was located about 80 feet beyond the main wreckage of the tow airplane in the grassy area adjacent to the runway. Photos of the tow rope showed that one end appeared to be cut, while the opposing end was intact. The wreckage of the tow airplane was recovered to a secure location for further examination.

Aircraft and Owner/Operator Information

Aircraft Make: BELLANCA
Registration: N4116Y
Aircraft Category:Airplane 
Amateur Built: No
Operator: Northern California Soaring Assoc
Operating Certificate(s) Held: None

Meteorological Information and Flight Plan

Conditions at Accident Site: Visual Conditions
Condition of Light:Day 
Observation Facility, Elevation: KLVK, 393 ft msl
Observation Time: 2053 UTC
Distance from Accident Site: 12 Nautical Miles
Temperature/Dew Point: 29°C / 9°C
Lowest Cloud Condition: Clear
Wind Speed/Gusts, Direction: 7 knots / , 300°
Lowest Ceiling: None
Visibility:  10 Miles
Altimeter Setting: 29.87 inches Hg
Type of Flight Plan Filed: None
Departure Point:  Byron, CA (C83)
Destination: Byron, CA (C83)

Wreckage and Impact Information

Crew Injuries: 1 Fatal
Aircraft Damage: Destroyed
Passenger Injuries: N/A
Aircraft Fire: On-Ground
Ground Injuries: N/A
Aircraft Explosion: None
Total Injuries: 1 Fatal
Latitude, Longitude: 37.835278, -121.631389

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

A pilot who died after his single-engine plane towing a glider crashed as it took off from Byron Airport on Saturday has been identified by the Contra Costa County coroner's office as 68-year-old Concord resident John Scott.

The two-seat Bellanca 8GCBC flipped over and caught fire at about 1:20 p.m. Saturday, while the trailing glider landed safely, Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Ian Gregor said.

The plane crashed on the edge of the runway, according to the East Contra Costa County Fire Protection District, which responded to the fiery crash alongside firefighters from Byron Airport.

"Unfortunately the pilot who was the sole occupant of the glider tow airplane perished in the crash," ECCFPD said.

Scott was on the Board of Directors of the Northern California Soaring Association. The NCSA is a volunteer glider club that owns five gliders, a tow plane, and operates out of the Byron Airport.

Saturday's fatal crash is to be investigated by the FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board, with the NTSB as the lead agency, according to Gregor.


A pilot died Saturday after the plane he was flying crashed shortly after takeoff from Byron Airport just south of Discovery Bay.

The crash occurred around 1:30 p.m. when a tow plane with a glider attached took a nosedive and flipped before catching fire, said Gil Guerrero, East Contra Costa Fire Protection District battalion chief.

Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Ian Gregor said the plane was a Bellanca 8GCBC Scout.

Witnesses said the plane was fully engulfed within 20 seconds and they heard several explosions, Guerrero said.

The glider was able to land safely without incident but the tow plane pilot was pronounced dead at the scene. No other injuries were reported.

Airport rescue firefighters extinguished the flames before his team arrived, Guerrero said.

The pilot, a 68-year-old man, is not being identified until his family can be contacted.

Local officials turned the investigation over to the Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board, which will work to determine a probable cause. Such investigations often take a year or more to complete.

The pilot of a Bellanca 8GCBC Scout plane died when the aircraft crashed and burned at Byron Airport, Saturday, May 9th.

The identity of the pilot has not yet been released.

Firefighters from the airport responded to the crash at the north end of runway 12 that was reported shortly before 1:30 p.m. and found the plane upside down at the edge of the runway. They extinguished the fire, but the body of the pilot was found in the cockpit.

According to East Contra Costa Fire Protection District Battalion Chief Gil Guererro, the pilot was towing a glider before the accident. The glider pilot landed without incident.

No information regarding a possible cause of the crash was available. Officials from the Federal Aviation Administration reported to the airport, and investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board were also expected.

The plane carried the insignia of the Northern California Soaring Association (NCSA) on its tail. According to its website, NCSA is a volunteer club headquartered at the airport and also owns five gliders and a tow plane.


  1. A friend who was present described the situation as:
    The aircraft took off towing a glider. The glider climbed abruptly about 200 feet after departure, pulling the tail of the accident aircraft into the air. The tow plane cut the cord and tried to recover but it was too late.


  2. I may have the altitudes from his recount wrong, it may have happened lower than that.

    1. I hear it happened at 100 ft AGL. The end of the runway was still under the towplane when the glider went up so high.

  3. Basic rule ... If you lose sight of the tow plane RELEASE IMMEDIATELY


  4. never flown a glider do both the glider and tow plane have a cable release
    dont think I could put my life in another pilots hands

    1. Ever been a passenger on an airliner?

      R.e. the article. Very sad situation preventable by earlier glider release. RIP.

    2. Nice false equivalence there, being a passenger on a commercial airliner is nowhere comparable to putting your life into the hands of the glider pilot connected to your tail with a cable (as this situation clearly shows).

    3. Yes, both the tow plane and glider can release. Scott pulled the release in the tow plane but was too low to recover. The NTSB preliminary report shows that the tow plane end of the tow rope was cut. Scott was very experienced tow pilot for NCSA. He had seconds to react. The first couple hundred feet of climb is the most dangerous for a tow pilot.

      btw... I made 900 tows in 16Y for NCSA. They are very safety conscious when I was there as a tow pilot.

  5. Yes, both gliders and tow planes have releases. Very sad that this happened.

  6. I have been in this situation before, luckily at altitude. It happens fast! I was at 1,000' towing a glider who lost sight of me, got slack in the rope, then BAM! When the rope came tight I was looking down in an instant pulling hard to no effect. Until the glider got down I wasn't able to do anything. And even if the pilot had time to release, at low altitude it's not enough to recover. Plus, it the tow hitch is a standard Schweitzer hitch installed per most STC's, with the release tongue on the bottom, a glider higher than the tow plane will put enough force on the hook making it physically impossible to release. But again, it happens so fast there isn't time to react. And usually the glider pilot says, 'I don't know what happened ... I hit some turbulence and then lost sight of the tow plane, then the rope released–I turned back to land and there was a big fire on the runway . ..' Usually the rope has either broken or back-released as the glider passed over the wreck. So sad and completely preventable.

    1. I fully agree with your assessment. I have over 4,000 hours towing gliders and could not release 3 separate times as there is too much pressure on the tow hook.

    2. 16Y had a rope wench and guillotine rope cutter. The report says he cut the rope, but like you said, Scott was too low to recover.
      I made 900 tows in 16Y. Sad. He was way more experienced than me.

  7. Not much left forward of the leading edge, indicating that it impacted the runway nearly vertical with the momentum carrying the tail over.

  8. There's definitely more risk being the tow plane. Truly a sad circumstance.

  9. I heard the same thing, shortly after liftoff the glider abruptly kited way up above the towplane. The towplane's tail was probably pulled up very suddenly, causing the crash. It's another matter for why the glider kited up.

    1. Canopy popped open.

  10. The tow plane is at the mercy of the glider until sufficient altitude is reached. I had a "friend" flying a glider while I was in the towing in a Super Cub. At 3,000 feet the glider pilot yanked back on the elevator to get a little more altitude before releasing. The sudden ensuing nose-dive pinned me against the belts unable to reach the release the tow line. As soon as the glider released, I was able to recover with significant altitude loss. Not fun. RIP tow pilot.

    1. Did you chew the glider pilot out when you both got back on the ground?

  11. I was a member of the NCSA club where this happened at. My last tow I had up was from that man last june. I am so shocked. I dont even know what to say right now. He was the reason I actually left the club. I got tired of the altering flying schedules for learning so he told me about arizona soaring in Maricopa where they do immersive training. I think it was definitely glider error. Terrible tragedy. I'm at a loss for words

    1. My last tow was in Byron with John as well. He gave me the same advice. He was my close buddy/mentor out there and I enjoyed and respected him like a father. I’m shocked. I know he died doing what he loved and that puts my heart at peace. RIP My old friend…. See you on the other side!

  12. Unknown, you learned faster at Maricopa? Flying the same instructor and more days in a row. NCSA is slower, different instructor every weekend and you can't fly again and again. Learn is slower and not thorough.

  13. Prelim NTSB report.
    Canopy popped open on glider. Distracted glider pilot.

  14. John Scott was one of the good ones out there in Byron. An awesome friend and a great pilot. Looks like one of those kids killed him on accident in the Blanic. What a tragic way to go for such a good man. My condolences to his family and the club he loved to tow for…