Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Lancair 235, N25NL: Fatal accident occurred October 24, 2020 in Cordes Lakes, Yavapai County, Arizona

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 traveled to the scene of this accident.

Additional Participating Entity: 
Federal Aviation Administration / Flight Standards District Office; Scottsdale, Arizona

Location: Cordes Lakes, AZ
Accident Number: WPR21FA025
Date & Time: October 24, 2020, 10:28 Local
Registration: N25NL
Aircraft: Lancair 235
Injuries: 2 Fatal
Flight Conducted Under:

On October 24, 2020, about 1028 mountain standard time, a Lancair 235, N25NL, was substantially damaged when it was involved in an accident near Cordes Lakes, Arizona. The pilot and passenger were fatally injured. The airplane was operated as a Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 personal flight.

Friends of the pilot reported that he had departed Deer Valley Airport (DVT), Phoenix, Arizona, on October 24, with an intended destination of Page, Arizona. On the morning of October 26, 2020, Flight Service was notified by concerned friends that the pilot had not returned to DVT on October 25. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued an Alert Notice (ALNOT) shortly after. The wreckage of the airplane was located by a law enforcement air unit the morning of October 26. There are no known witnesses to the accident sequence.

Preliminary radar data provided by the FAA showed that the airplane had departed DVT at 1002, turned to a northerly heading and ascended to an altitude of about 7,600 ft mean sea level (msl). The data showed that at 1028:08, a slight right turn was initiated along with the start of a descent from 7,600 ft. (See figure 1). At 1028:18, the data showed the airplane at 7,300 ft msl, before a left turn was initiated. At 10:28:23, the data showed the airplane at 7,400 ft, where a right descending turn was initiated. The last recorded target was at 10:38:38, about 925 ft southwest of the accident site at an altitude of 6,200 ft. 

Examination of the accident site revealed that the airplane impacted mountainous terrain about 4.5 miles east of Cordes Lakes. All major structural components of the airplane were located within 15 ft of the main wreckage. The wreckage was recovered to a secure location for further examination.

Aircraft and Owner/Operator Information

Aircraft Make: Lancair
Registration: N25NL
Model/Series: 235
Aircraft Category: Airplane
Amateur Built: Yes
Operating Certificate(s) Held: None
Operator Designator Code:

Meteorological Information and Flight Plan

Conditions at Accident Site: VMC 
Condition of Light: Day
Observation Facility, Elevation: KPRC,5052 ft msl 
Observation Time: 10:53 Local
Distance from Accident Site: 29 Nautical Miles
Temperature/Dew Point: 21°C /3°C
Lowest Cloud Condition: Clear
Wind Speed/Gusts, Direction: 9 knots / , 150°
Lowest Ceiling: 
Visibility: 10 miles
Altimeter Setting: 30.11 inches Hg 
Type of Flight Plan Filed: None
Departure Point: Phoenix, AZ (DVT)
Destination: Page, AZ (PGA)

Wreckage and Impact Information

Crew Injuries: 1 Fatal 
Aircraft Damage: Substantial
Passenger Injuries: 1 Fatal 
Aircraft Fire: None
Ground Injuries:
Aircraft Explosion: None
Total Injuries: 2 Fatal 
Latitude, Longitude: 34.298231,-112.01611

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

William Engel Bell, 34, and his 8-year-old daughter, Amira Caballero, died in a Lancair 235 plane crash in Cottonwood, Yavapai County, Arizona

Marcellus, New York — Bill Bell always knew he wanted to become a pilot.

His buddies from Marcellus High School joked that he could fly a plane before he could drive a car. Over the years, Bell traveled the world, often flying some rich and famous folks along the way, his friends said. But he never forgot where he came from, they said.

William Engel Bell, 34, planned to take his 8-year-old daughter, Amira Caballero, camping in Page, Arizona, on October 24th, when the small plane Bell was piloting crashed, according to the Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office.

Bell, a 2004 Marcellus High School graduate, had flown out of Deer Valley Airport, a public airport 17 miles north of Phoenix, in Maricopa County, Arizona. He and his young daughter were reported missing October 25th after they did not return home to Peoria, Arizona.

At about 12:15 p.m. October 26th, an Arizona Department of Public Safety’s Ranger helicopter spotted Bell’s Lancair 235 aircraft in a remote area near Cordes Lakes, about 65 miles north of Phoenix, according to the Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office.

The plane had crashed, and was upside down on its wings. Both Bell and his young daughter were dead, the sheriff’s office said. The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the crash.

“He was doing what he loved with the person he loved (when he died),” Bell’s friend Jon Thurston said this week.

Thurston and Bell’s other friends said he always took every safety precaution. They had flown with him in the past and had had conversations about safety as recent as when retired Los Angeles Lakers basketball superstar Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter, six passengers and the pilot died in a plane crash earlier this year in California.

“He said it should never have happened; it wasn’t safe with the weather,” said Thurston, who now lives outside Houston, Texas.

Bell’s bond with Thurston and three other friends — Matt Cornish, Matt Richardson and Bill Pientka — began the first day of ninth grade at Marcellus High School.

“Bill was the new kid in school,” Thurston said. “We started hanging out with him.”

Yes, they had classes together. But they also had a lot of fun together, said Richardson, who now lives in Raleigh, North Carolina.

“We’d Saran wrap people’s cars; line driveways with hundreds of driveway reflectors,” he said of their high school pranks. “Always having fun.”

Cornish, who still lives in Marcellus, said he and Bell worked together as ski instructors at Song Mountain in high school and on college breaks. He also remembers how Bell ran cross country, and how he dreamed of becoming a pilot.

“That’s all he ever wanted to do,” Cornish said.

During their senior year of high school, Bell’s life plans started to come together. He was accepted into Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Florida.

After graduation, his friends visited him in Florida.

“We always used to joke: He got his pilot’s license before he got his driver’s license,” Richardson said. “He could fly place to place, but once he got there, he couldn’t drive so he’d usually call a friend. Anytime we could, we gave him crap for it.”

Bell eventually got his driver’s license part-way through college, his friends said. And when he did, Richardson said, “he made a big deal, saying we couldn’t make fun of him for it anymore.”

After finishing flight school, Bell worked for a couple regional airlines and eventually moved west. At one point, he flew charter flights over the Grand Canyon; he also was a contractor for Google doing aerial photography; and he worked as a private pilot for the owners of Fox and later for a hedge fund billionaire, Cornish said.

In a group text once, Bell sent his friends a photo of him hanging out with Jerry Jones, Michael Strahan and Terry Bradshaw on the set of Fox NFL Sunday, Richardson said.

Before the coronavirus pandemic struck, Bell told his friends he was traveling frequently to New Zealand.

Then, in a text message a month or two ago, Bell told Thurston how he was flying “seven days on, seven days off for Elon,” and hoped to make it permanent. Thurston said Bell was referring to Tesla co-founder Elon Musk, although he did not know whether he flew Musk or someone else connected to Musk and his companies.

“Bill was very, very well traveled," Thurston said. “He flew to Southeast Asia, the Middle East, South America, everywhere in Europe."

“But his focus was always on his friends, asking what are you doing or how are your kids,” he said. "He was so humble; an easy-going guy; always joking around.”

Bell and his friends sent each other text messages regularly, they said. If he was flying in a city near where one of his friends lived, he’d try to stop by, hang out, have a beer and catch up.

Bell, Cornish, Thurston, Richardson and Pientka planned yearly get-togethers, and met in Florida, Ohio, Texas and North Carolina — all places someone in the group lived. This year’s trip was cancelled due to the pandemic, but the five friends still figured out a way to get together by having weekly Zoom meetings.

Throughout the years, Bell returned home to Marcellus for friends' weddings and some holidays. A couple years ago, he brought his daughter, Amira, home to meet his parents, his friends said.

Bells’ parents, William L. and Denise Bell, still live in the town of Marcellus. He’s also survived by a younger sister, Anne Bell, and a younger brother, Curt Bell.

Cornish described Bill Bell as “one of the most giving people I know.” He was so giving, Cornish said, that Bell twice gave someone in Florida and again in New York City his wallet after he took out his license and other important items. He also said Bell worked hard for all he had — and a year ago, Bell was able to buy his first plane.

“He was so excited to finally be able to own his own airplane,” Cornish said.

His friends say they’re still trying to understand how the accident happened and why Bill and Amira are gone.

“Because of covid, he was flying a lot less so he was home more and spending more time with his daughter,” Cornish said.

Bell had moved from his home just south of LAX airport to Peoria, Arizona to be closer to Amira, a third-grader who loved cheerleading and gymnastics. Bell’s girlfriend also lived in the area, so he was near those he cared about, his friends said.

In Arizona, friends, family and strangers have donated $19,000 to help Amira’s family pay for her memorial service and burial.

Cornish and Thurston said they are planning to travel to Peoria later this month for a celebration of Bell’s life on November 21st.

“Twenty years (of friendship) wasn’t enough. I think about him every day," Thurston said. “A small-town kid from Marcellus goes to Daytona Beach and in 16 years, sees the world. He’s lived and done more in his short life than most people have done in 10 life times."


  1. Thin wing slippery though the air low fuel use high cruise but off airport forced landing not easy. Route flight so can glide to some kind of airstrip. Rather have STOL plane like a kitfox, or superstol.

  2. Flat spin? Wonder what he had stowed aft of CG.

    1. Wing is inverted, tail is not, cowling is 20 feet forward, looks like nose dug in and it flipped.

    2. I’m not sure that wing is inverted. The flaps look like they’re situated correctly and look like they’re down. The cabin area was probably destroyed by first responders getting the occupant out if not just destroyed in the crash which might be why it’s missing. The pile or parts ahead of the main wreckage might be cowling or might be part of the cabin.

    3. The wing is definitely inverted, because you can clearly see main gear outboard doors, with one on the left side of the video frame standing up vertically initially then flapping closed in the breeze at exactly 2:20 elapsed time in the Facebook video.

      Hover the time bar and play across the 2:20 time period. Very clearly a still-attached outboard gear door, rotating about the hinge as it moves.

  3. Yes, the wing, and cockpit section is INVERTED. Notice there are NO impact scars on the exposed (bottom) section of wing, especially since it was a gear UP at impact. The outer gear door that blows closed in the video at 02:15 is only held with a very short rod and two AN-3 bolts. It appears the attach bracket for the rod has failed on the inside of the gear door (no rod visible and door blows completely closed).
    Both flaps are drooping (symmetrically) more than likely to a failure at the control rod attaching to the actuator.

    I don't see this as a gear up landing with the nose, 'digging in'as mentioned above. If it did, the leading edge of the wing would be facing aft if it made only 1/2 revolution. If it made it all the way around, the leading edge would be facing forward, with the lower wing skin facing the dessert.

    Hopefully the avionics memory card(s) will say what happened?

    PS I have built a Lancair 320/360 which is a 235 airframe essentially with improvements.

    1. Also, notice the Opuntia (prickly pear) cactus that is standing ABOVE the wreckage in all quadrants. If it were a 'landing', especially a gear up landing, they would be cut down low to the ground.
      The top and bottom wing skins of the right wing have 'unglued' from the two spars, pulling the right aileron with it. But the spars appear to be parallel to each other (undamaged).

      Things really don't add up with this one.

    2. Inverted Flat spin, if you look at all of the other spin accidents it is the same pattern. If you also look at the radar returns the aircraft fell out of the sky. only way to fall out of the sky without going forward in ground track is to spin an aircraft. aircraft impacted and the aircraft did not catch on fire which most spin accidents do not catch on fire, the gear was not down and the flaps were not out.

    3. If there was an inverted spin, then the vertical stab and rudder would be crushed and ALSO be upside down in the wreckage. Neither of those happened, so that theory doesn't hold water. IMHO

      Also, there is no ADSB data published for N25NL, since the owner has it locked out of Flightaware and FlightRadar24. Where is this 'data' you have on N25NL?

    4. If you actually see the wreckage of all inverted flat spins it is identical, so it does hold water with the portion of the tail. As far as the data you can go and figure that out from the departures from that airport and backtrack the blocked LAC aircraft and see the flight path along with the vertical profile. you simply can not fall directly out of the sky without inducing a spin from the vertical profile to the impact zone. Also you can see the aircraft did not catch on fire, also a pattern of spin accidents. The landing gear was not out the flaps were not out so that debunks a landing was attempted. It was a spin, now whether it was an inverted one is speculation, but fact is this aircraft went down because of a spin situation.

    5. Learning to avoid spins, plus learning to recover quickly from spins, is probably the best way to ensure we don't die from a spin (so we can live a long, happy, life full of flying, then die of old age instead).

    6. Obvious inflight separation of the tail from the fuselage, loss of control, came in inverted with empennage still dragging along on push rod and wire rope control links.

      No other explanation for the empennage being rotated 180 degrees as an undamaged unit like the photos show it.

    7. Inflight separation at 266mph according to the data would never have stayed attached with push rods and rope. Inflight separation would have had the aircraft in a million pieces scared all over the place. This is not, everything in intact. If you look at spin accidents almost all have the tail in this position at the crash site. When you are in a spin your nose is already 45-60* nose low, wouldn’t be much to go inverted.

    8. One of many "Anonymous" says "all inverted spin wreckage looks the same"
      Well here's exhibit A:

      Exhibit B:

      Does the vertical stab and rudder look intact? Are the wings upside down vs the horizontal stab/elevators? Are the leading edges of the wing facing the tail or facing away from the tail section.

      So explain how the wings are upside down, yet facing correctly in reference to the undamaged tail?

      To another "Anonymous",
      As for separating inflight, there is only ONE push/pull tube of Aluminum tubing, and two Stainless Steel rudder cables. Neither would be capable of holding the two pieces (wings and tail) together at any speed while hurtling through the air.


      Yes, I do realize on such a website, we are dealing with licensed pilots of wide ranges of ratings and experiences, pilot wannabe's, and those who only fly MS Flightsimulator.

      Now the video link is removed...Hmmmm

    9. So the fully intact tail assembly that push rod and rudder cables can't keep hold of in hurtling flight was severed and rotated 180 at some point but stayed with the fuselage. With inflight separation ruled out, the break and twist event had to happen right before settling into final position.

      What force/event severed the tail assembly? Answer: Kinetic energy of tail assembly reacting across its dainty fuselage connection point during the impact that mangled the engine section.

      But what produced the 180 rotation between tail and airframe after the kinetic tail break reaction? A possible answer: Rotation of the airframe relative to the tail as it pitch poled over the nose after engine section impact.

      And what force could have acted on the airframe to induce rotation during a pitch pole event? Damage to the underneath surface of Port side wing might be another clue, but low resolution news chopper video can't provide the necessary review for causation.

      The low resolution image limitations become apparent by looking at the fence line behind the tail of the accident aircraft in the ABC15 Facebook chopper video. The T-posts would be difficult to detect without the shadows they cast. Discussion of what can be deduced from the imaging available so far shouldn't ignite a comment section flame war.

    10. In response to CaptCrunch's comment "Also, there is no ADSB data published for N25NL, since the owner has it locked out of Flightaware and FlightRadar24. Where is this 'data' you have on N25NL?"

      This is why you should look at adsbexchange and not FA or FR24, because adsbexchange does not allow any censorship of results. Here is their track of N25NL on the day of the accident:

  4. All major components are confined to a small area, I don't see any ground scars that would indicate forward motion. I'm going with spatial disorientation, dark night/no visual reference, stall spin (see that tinted canopy?).

    1. The intact tail being twisted 180 is unexplained for flat spin scenario. Dark night was not the case for 17:27 Zulu. Seven hour offset makes the accident 10:27 Arizona time.

      Still a mystery.

  5. No fire Any fuel found ? and maybe the pics are taken after the rescue crews got to them because the seats are under the rear fuse like they placed them under the tail.

  6. And didnt these planes have an iisue with in flight breakups on the rear fuse at the same location as this one?

    1. Not really. It's a very strong airplane. These planes breakup only because they accelerate very quickly. For instance, where the plane is allowed to enter a spiral, the speed will then build very quickly. Situation could be unrecoverable in under 10 seconds.

    2. No I built one the older versions were coming apart right at this same location. We had to modify the kit as per a d.a. and update it to a stronger method. it added two years to the project.

  7. Looks like icing conditions and snow around Cottonwood AZ at that time. May have played a part.

  8. If this were icing caused that would indicate at least 3 fatal icing accidents in the southern/southwest US in just the past few weeks!

  9. Icing. Hahaha. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky that day. Y’all are hilarious. This was a spin accident. Now how that happened is up to the NTSB to figure out. Should know something initially here soon.

  10. Not sure what the hate is against ballistic parachutes... the more planes are equipped with them the better the chutes will get. The better the fabrics, the resistance and usability. Like air bags on cars that saved countless lives and protected against disfigurements.
    And in cases like these who knows if pulling the "oh s***" handle especially from cruise could have saved them both. We'll never know but better have it and not need it than need it and not have it...

  11. What a contradictory and ironic statement:

    “He was doing what he loved with the person he loved (when he died),” Bell’s friend Jon Thurston said this week.

    Thurston and Bell’s other friends said he always took every safety precaution. They had flown with him in the past and had had conversations about safety.

    “He said it should never have happened; it wasn’t safe with the weather,” said Thurston.

    So ..to summarize He always took every safety precaution, but it wasn't safe to fly because of the weather.

    Such a tragic loss

    1. The comment about the weather was in regards to a comment the accident pilot made about the Kobe Bryant accident.

    2. The safety and weather conversation discussed the Kobe Bryant crash.

      In the article, the "wasn’t safe with the weather" comment was said about the Kobe crash, not the day of the N25NL crash.

    3. The comment about weather was in regards to the Kobe Bryant accident.

    4. Sorry, my mistake. I re-read the statements and I guess I intermingled the two as both referring to this accident. Again, sorry.
      Still, in both cases very sad.

  12. Topo map elevation for the red circled area of the crash site beside Indian Creek is 1140 meters (3,740 feet). Last recorded target being at an altitude of 6,200 ft and 925 ft southwest of the accident site is consistent with flat spin for the remaining 2,460 feet of altitude loss above terrain.

    Pinned location for red circled area:

    Topo map (go East/zoom along Indian Creek, find match to pinned area at location on creek straight south of "Sycamore Mesa" map annotation):

  13. The sequence of positions shown on the Google Earth image of the preliminary report are 5 seconds apart. Distance traveled in each interval is fairly uniform, suggesting no major change in ground speed between marked positions. There is slightly greater distance traveled between 10:28:18 and 10:28:23 and slightly less distance traveled in the ending interval between 10:28:33 and 10:28:38.

    Descent rates in FPM between the 5 second interval positions are 12X the difference in altitude, as follows:
    7600>7600 = 0 FPM (straight flight)
    7600>7600 = 0 FPM (w/slight right turn)
    7600>7400 = -2400 FPM (w/slight left turn)
    7400>7300 = -1200 FPM (w/right turn)
    7300>7400 = +1200 FPM (w/left turn & increased travel distance)
    7400>6700 = -8400 FPM (w/right turn)
    6700>6300 = -4800 FPM (straight)
    6300>6200 = -1200 FPM (straight & decreased traveled distance)

    A ballpark travel speed estimate can be attempted by transcribing those time-tagged positions from the preliminary report Google Earth image to Google Maps and using the measure distance function. Transcribing the three data points representing 15 seconds between 10:27:58 and 10:28:13 measures one mile on the map.

    The mile in 15 seconds measured on the map converts to four miles per minute, or 240 MPH. (Accuracy of that ballpark estimate depends on how precisely the positions are represented in the original image and as transcribed to the map.)

    1. If you look at the entire adsb track on adsbexchange, you will see there is some positional inaccuracies throughout the entire track, so I think if you filter those it will show the plane was in an increasing righthand turn during the last portion of its flight. My vote is either pilot incapacitation or spatial disorientation.

    2. The NTSB-plotted data points from 10:28:28 to 10:28:38 in the report show aircraft location beyond the final data point recorded at 10:28:25 (17:28:25 Z) in the adsbexchange track plot.

      The final three NTSB-plotted points would not be in a straight line if the plane was in a turn at that time.

      Click "K" to turn on track data point time tags, here:

  14. Detailed examination of yielded materials where the tail section separation occurred should reveal the mode of failure (bending or twisting). Fuselage is resin impregnated glass fiber over honeycomb core.

    Learning about that tail separation is important for the fifty five Lancair 235 airframes still registered.

  15. impact caused the tail to separate like that. If it had separated in the air, that tail would not have been a the scene of the crash but rather a mile away.

    1. Empennage separation photo from a Lancair Legacy 2000 (N12KX) landing accident in 2012 shows a clean break at the same location as N25NL (see link below). Push-pull elevator tube and rudder cables did not retain the tail section after separation in that example, equally unlikely for separation in flight.


  16. No way it was any sort of spin. Total distance of the radar track is 2.8 miles over a 40 second period which is an average speed of 252mph. This airplane did not fall out of the sky. Hard to comprehend. I had the pleasure of flying with Bill on the Pilatus. He was a super sharp guy.

    1. I meant to imply it did not fall out of the sky in a spin. It takes several miles to slow from 250mph to stalling speed in this airplane. The 2500 ft loss of altitude between the last ping at cruise speed and point of impact close by does not suggest a spin at all.

    2. So then explain the impact and that every piece of wreckage was within a 15 foot circular pattern. The last known ping 6200 feet and the aircraft crash was 925 feet NOT 2.8 miles. The only way an aircraft lands in that pattern without a debris field spread out over a larger span than 15 feet is in fact a spin. I know Bill extremely well. Without any doubt in my mind with my back ground and degree being aircraft accidents from ERAU can tell you this was a spin accident. Now how this happened, the NTSB will find out, they have all the information to make a conclusion of what happened since the aircraft was relatively intact. Speaking directly with the IIC Joshua he said himself "the aircraft fell out of the sky". You can fight the facts and not learn from this tragedy, but I for one know my friend would want other pilots to accept the facts and learn from this so this doesn't happen to other pilots and families.

    3. Also you don't need to "slow" down to stall an aircraft. Accelerated stalls happen all the time... Facts are facts to go from 6200 feet to 3700 feet with a horizontal distance of 925 feet (NOT 2.8 miles) you can come to your own conclusion.

  17. Pings are every 5 seconds from the radar. You can say what you want but when you are doing aerobatics in an airplane and that is what he was doing anything can happen at any speed. Also when you do aerobatics you most certainly can go into a spin at just about any speed. Airplanes don’t crash themselves. This crash with a perfectly intact aircraft that didn’t enfold into a firey pit is the cause of a spin. You also don’t know what happened to this aircraft September 2019. Bill lost an engine because he ran out of fuel. Aircraft had plenty of fuel but no fuel in the header tank because bill didn’t know how to transfer the fuel. Bill was a great pilot professionally speaking, I know because I was his instructor through all his ratings. But the second he got this plane he became a wild man on his personal time. I can guanrtee you I know bill far more than you know him. I seek truth to learn from his death not try and hide behind bills Professional accomplishments.

    Also what you haven’t stated since you are so sure it wasn’t a spin and yet the NTSB is leaning that way (call josh he will confirm) what was it Mr. Professional that knows more than the investigators?

    1. The data shows no "wild man" flying. A descent looking like engine failure with virtually no good choices ending with a spin. I've flown with Bill many hours in 3 different aircraft. He was not a cowboy. Your comments are unfair and he's not here to explain them.

  18. Also how did Costas smack his plane into the side of a mountain yet he was a United pilot. It’s the mentality of this could never happen to me because I’m gods gift to aviation. That’s when these things happen. Without a doubt in my mind we lost two great aviators but everyone is human. Just because you have 6000-8000 hours doesn’t mean you have he experience to be going inverted or flying up in the Rockies in a normally aspirated engine AC.