Tuesday, December 08, 2020

Van's RV-6, N69HF: Fatal accident occurred December 08, 2020 in Hitchcock, Galveston County, Texas

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; Houston, Texas 

Location: Hitchcock, TX 
Accident Number: CEN21LA080
Date & Time: December 8, 2020, 15:40 Local
Registration: N69HF
Aircraft: Vans RV6 
Injuries: 1 Fatal
Flight Conducted Under: Part 91: General aviation - Personal

On December 8, 2020, about 1540 central standard time, a Vans RV-6 airplane, N69HF, was destroyed when it was involved in an accident in Hitchcock, Texas. The pilot was fatally injured. The airplane was operated as a Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 91 personal flight.

Witnesses observed the pilot conduct maintenance on the airplane in front of his hangar at Scholes International Airport (GLS), Galveston, Texas. The ramp area where the airplane was located was on the north end of the airport between two rows of hangars. About 1415 one witness heard the airplane’s engine start and went outside to observe the airplane. The witness saw the pilot in the cockpit of the airplane with the canopy closed. He heard the power increase on the airplane’s engine and observed the airplane takeoff to the west from the ramp area. He said the airplane became airborne as it entered the grassy area between the taxiway and Rwy 18/36 and it bounced, pitched, and yawed erratically as it accelerated.

A pilot, who was in his airplane on the parallel taxiway near the hangar area, observed the airplane “shoot out” of the ramp area about 200 yards in front of him and become airborne as it entered the grass.

He indicated the pilot appeared to be having trouble controlling the airplane. He did not hear the pilot of the airplane make any radio calls on ground or tower frequencies.

Additional witnesses observed the airplane fly at a low altitude above a residential area about 6 miles west of GLS. They said the airplane flew north to south 200-300 ft above the ground and made a turn to the west towards the accident location, which was about 4 miles northwest of their location. They also reported the engine sounded normal. Residential security cameras also captured video of the airplane as it made that pass at 1538. The engine can be heard at a high power setting in the videos.

A witness near the accident scene reported she heard a loud noise and her house began to shake. She looked out her window and observed an airplane fly low near her house. She described the airplane as out of control as it went down, wobbling and moving unusually before it hit the ground. She said the airplane traveled more horizontally than vertically as it descended. She said the noise sounded like an engine and it was constant before the airplane impacted the ground. 

Aircraft and Owner/Operator Information

Aircraft Make: Vans
Registration: N69HF
Model/Series: RV6
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: KGLS,9 ft msl
Observation Time: 15:52 Local
Distance from Accident Site: 9 Nautical Miles
Temperature/Dew Point: 18°C /9°C
Lowest Cloud Condition: Clear 
Wind Speed/Gusts, Direction: 11 knots / , 190°
Lowest Ceiling: 
Visibility: 10 miles
Altimeter Setting: 30.2 inches Hg
Type of Flight Plan Filed:
Departure Point: 

Wreckage and Impact Information

Crew Injuries: 1 Fatal
Aircraft Damage: Destroyed
Passenger Injuries: 
Aircraft Fire: None
Ground Injuries:
Aircraft Explosion: None
Total Injuries: 1 Fatal 
Latitude, Longitude: 29.342925,-95.004477 (est)

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. 

Austin Stahl

Austin Stahl, a 50-year-old Galveston native, was killed Tuesday in a plane crash near North Railroad and Mike avenues in Hitchcock, according to the Galveston County Medical Examiner's Office. 

The National Transportation Safety Board still is investigating the crash, but initial reports indicate it began with a mishap on the ground at Scholes International Airport in Galveston.

The Van's RV-6 was unoccupied and running when it began to move forward while maintenance work was being performed, according to a brief statement from the Federal Aviation Administration.

The pilot jumped into the plane, apparently in effort to stop it, but the aircraft rolled over its chocks, ground equipment meant to prevent it from moving, and became airborne, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

Stahl was an experienced pilot and the only passenger on the plane, said Mike Shahan, director of Scholes International Airport.

GALVESTON COUNTY, Texas — One person was killed Tuesday afternoon when a small plane crashed in a residential area of Galveston County, according to authorities.

According to the Federal Aviation Administration, an unoccupied single-engine plane began to move forward while maintenance work was being performed on the aircraft at Scholes International Airport in Galveston, which is about a 14-mile drive from the airport.

A pilot jumped in the plane but the FAA says it rolled over chocks and became airborne. The plane went down in a residential area near the intersection of South Railroad and Mike Avenue, in Hitchcock, at about 2 p.m.

The pilot has now been identified as 50-year-old Austin Stahl, of Galveston. 

There were no other passengers on the plane and no other injuries were reported.

The plane went down near railroad tracks.

Nicole Sumlin is a nurse who lives near the crash site. She said she saw the plane flying very low before nose-diving into the ground right in front of her house.

"As I looked, the plane just nose-dived right in front of my house and the wreckage just flew everywhere," she said.

She said she called 911 and immediately put on her mask to see if she would be able to administer CPR to any survivors.

She said when she approached the crash site, the wreckage was too bad and there were no signs of life, so she backed off and waited for first responders to arrive.

GALVESTON COUNTY, Texas (KTRK) -- The person killed in a small plane crash in Galveston County was working on the aircraft at Scholes International Airport when it began to roll away Tuesday, the FAA disclosed.

The person jumped into the plane before it rolled over wheel chocks and became airborne before crashing almost 14 miles away in a residential area in Hitchcock, according to a preliminary investigation. The crash site was located near South Railroad and Mike avenues.

The Federal Aviation Administration added the Van's RV-6 was unoccupied when it began to move at about 2 p.m.

As of Wednesday, the pilot's identity remains unknown.

There were no other deaths or injuries reported on the ground. It's also not known why the plane rolled away.

The Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board are investigating.

One person was killed in a plane crash near North Railroad and Mike avenues in Hitchcock about 3:50 p.m Tuesday.

The crash occurred shortly after Galveston police began looking for an airplane that had wobbled off the runway at Scholes International Airport in Galveston, officials said.

Hitchcock resident Nicole Sumlin saw the out-of-control plane from her window at home. It nosedived into a field near the railroad track on Mike and Hitchcock avenues, she said.

Sumlin, a nurse, called Hitchcock police and then went out to see whether she could assist but saw the pilot was dead, she said.

Scholes International Airport earlier in the day had called Galveston police about a small plane that had what officials described as an abnormal takeoff, said Doug Balli, assistant Galveston chief of police.

Galveston police were dispatched to search for the plane, which later crashed in Hitchcock.

Scholes International Airport officials told police the plane appeared to be unstable when it was lifting off the runway, Balli said.

The Hitchcock police department Tuesday evening had not identified the person killed in the crash.

It was unclear Wednesday how many people were aboard the plane, officials said.


  1. Tail draggers do not get airborne on their own. They'll ground loop before getting fast enough to get airborne with zero rudder input. And even if one does in some freak way, it sure won't be flying for even 1 mile, let alone 14 miles before coming back to earth in a bad attitude. He was at the controls of this aircraft but the question is why. Was he the mechanic working on it? If so, why was the engine on and he was outside of the aircraft with no assistant inside? If not, was this an engine runup test that got out of control with a brake failure and he tried to fly it back to the airport and was that far away trying to learn how to fly, on the fly? Way too many questions but hopefully we'll get the root cause(s) answer.

    1. Something hella suspicious about this. Just me?

    2. just wobbled off a runway @ GLS, which has air traffic control 0600-1800, and flew 14 miles NW ..

    3. Both me and my wife families have grown up in and around airplanes; never once have we heard of planes "accidentally" flying for 14 miles! We have heard, several times, of people somewhat intentionally flying for yards to miles ending with not a scratch to injuries to death.

      To not mince words, this guy wanted to fly this plane for one reason or another and paid the ultimate price for it.

    4. There was an Aeronca that got airborne by itself and flew until it ran out of gas and landed with no damage except where a military fighter tried to shoot it down. This was up in the Cincinnati area some years back if I remember correctly. It has happened more than once.

    5. Yes, there are a couple incidents where a tail wheel plane has taken flight after it was hand propped.
      Was Mr. Stahl a pilot? I couldn't find him at the FAA website.

    6. Well like I said it can happen but is extremely rare. Things have to be perfectly set up for a pilot-less aircraft to fly un-commanded from the ground. Starting with the trim being neutral for the elevator and right trim for the rudder. Of course the wing dihedral helps in stability as well un-commanded. Then of course the winds have to be calm not tossing it around.

    7. I know hundreds of ATP's and provide medicals for all of them, many are unlisted. Austin Stahl was an SWA pilot and a friend. He wasn't stealing the plane. Having an unattended plane running is not something that should ever happen (circumstances still unclear). He was healthy and certainly not suicidal or mentally ill. The fact that he did not pull the mixture, cut the fuel off, turn the key off, control the plane or simply brake means that he was most likely incapacitated while getting into the plane.

  2. Really one of the oddest crashes I've heard of.

    1. Same here, I'm left just scratching my head over this accident. There are so many questions, and I guess we will just have to wait for the accident report. But everything about this, is just so very odd.

  3. Some strange circumstances here ? I do not think we have the full story behind this one.

  4. May be two events construed as one if reported event times are correct:

    "The Federal Aviation Administration added the Van's RV-6 was unoccupied when it began to move at about 2 p.m."

    "One person was killed in a plane crash near North Railroad and Mike avenues in Hitchcock about 3:50 p.m Tuesday."

  5. A LANCAIR IV-P, N1084P is registered to Austin Stahl of Galveston.


    1. N69HF is registered to Joseph K Stahl..... could be related to mr Austin Stahl ?

  6. NTSB 830.5 The NTSB defines a reportable “accident” as “an occurrence associated with the operation of an aircraft that takes place between the time any person boards the aircraft with the intention of flight and all such persons have disembarked, and in which any person suffers death or serious injury, or in which the aircraft receives substantial damage.”

    So if this individual DID NOT INTEND to fly this plane, is it still an accident by NTSB definition?

  7. Austin was a very experienced SWA pilot, we suspect he became incapacitated when jumping in the plane, possibly from being hit on the head by the canopy. The plane barely cleared structures at the airport boundary and never appeared to gain more than 100 feet according to witnesses. There was no attempt to call the tower or declare an emergency.

    1. I know seven pilots who are flying or did fly for airlines. They are all correctly listed in the FAA Airmen's Registry. Austin Stahl is not.

    2. The opt-out capability affects Airmen Registry searches such that you can't see opt-out pilots if city, state and country are not left blank. One Austin Stahl shows up there, as opt-out:


      Airman opted-out of releasing address
      Medical Information:
      Medical Class: First Medical Date: 2/2020
      BasicMed Course Date: None BasicMed CMEC Date: None

      Certificates Description
      Date of Issue: 12/17/2008


      Type Ratings:
      A/B-727 A/B-737 A/IA-JET A/LR-JET


    3. Hitchcock PD press release stated Austin Joseph Stahl was the pilot:


  8. Being a commercial pilot for over 48 years, this is one strange ordeal. Now did this man get in the plane run beside it and jump in or???? After inside obviously and if he was an experience pilot why did he not just land the plane or fly it, why the crash, this is one strange story..........

  9. Well, if one wanted to fly an airplane for which one didn't have the key, you could simply flip the mags on and hand prop it....
    Or, if the batt was dead, and you badly wanted to fly, you might also be tempted to hand prop it....

    1. How do you turn the mags on without a key?

    2. Hot P-lead and move the prop enough, it will fire. Always assume the prop is hot.

  10. Three people saw the plane takeoff. I talked to all of them. None of these people are saying what the news is saying. I walked right by the hangar after he took off. There were no chocks on the ground. If you bump your head how are you flying 14 miles at 100agl steady as a rock. Very sad. I knew him personally and I am baffled

    1. Did the three people say the takeoff was unplanned and made from the hangar ramp, or did they see a planned takeoff from a runway?

    2. Not only the three people saw this, the control tower did as well. This accident should not be as sketchy as presented here.

    3. The press release from Hitchcock PD is an authoritative source for the 1541 time that the emergency response dispatch went out for the observed crash.

      The reporter-relayed statement "The Federal Aviation Administration added the Van's RV-6 was unoccupied when it began to move at about 2 p.m." may be accurate or may not.

      If there was a wobbly takeoff from a runway after 3:30, with an earlier "jumped in and stopped the runaway plane" incident at 2 pm, the sketchiness goes away.

      Time will tell. The plane did not fly itself and wallow around Galveston un-piloted for an hour and fifty minutes.

  11. So is the airport 14 miles from the airport?

  12. Was the canopy a tip-up or a slider? If it was a slider, reaching in and pulling the mixture before getting in from the wing would be sensible.

  13. I talked to Austin 5 minutes before he departed. The plane was not chocked and he did not jump in it. He started it and took off on the ramp between the hangers. It has been determined he had a medical problem.

    1. Thank you for this clarification

    2. "It has been determined he had a medical problem."
      Who has determined that it was a "medical" problem? There has not been an official medical statement issued as of 10/22/2020
      "He started it and took off on the ramp between the hangers" Man, that sounds legal...

    3. Everyone on this website ... except you ... was able to read George's comments above and easily connect the dots. Try to use your brain.

    4. I get it now, because the airplane wasn't chocked and he started it, took off on the ramp between the hangers, and George talked to him 5 Min earlier, He had a medical problem. He could very well of had a medical emergency, but what Official Coroners statement, or FAA Official has determined this was the cause of this accident that happened 14 miles away?
      all I'm asking is to read the official determination. Do you have that?

    5. Consider the privacy posture of individuals who have direct knowledge within the FAA, NTSB, Scholes Management, County Coroner and Hitchcock PD. It is highly unlikely that any of them have already communicated a medical determination outside of official protocols.

    6. I understand the privacy and legal implications of releasing info that has not been "officially approved" for such. But, to make a statement that it has been "determined" without a whiff of credulity such as, a person with, someone close to, a person with direct knowledge, etc., speaking on the condition of anonymity is just conjuncture at this point.

    7. I'd really like more information on what kind of a medical problem an ATP pilot with current medical had that resulted in this crash.

      It's a good thing this problem didn't occur while this guy was flying a planeload of passengers.

  14. It's a strange accident but strange accidents are exactly what stick in our minds. Google the "Cornfield Bomber" for a military jet that preferred not to have a pilot onboard. It is possible, though I am not suggesting it happened here, for an unsecured occupant to be ejected from a small aircraft. In this case, linked below, it was a CFI who landed in a different place than his airplane, a Piper Sport:


    The accident involved negative-G and a hypothesized unsecured pilot. This was vaguely reminiscent of John Denver's accident, in that the hypothesis was the pilot reached behind himself and lost control.

  15. Prelim report just came out in CAROL:


  16. Times for engine start and crash listed in NTSB preliminary report are about one hour and 20 minutes apart. Hard to understand the long duration given the apparent unintended takeoff.

  17. Mapped location for "the north end of the airport between two rows of hangars":


  18. This is some crazy reporting. Are we supposed to believe the plane took off all by itself, then suddenly crashed 14 mines away, all while the pilot was inside. Are we in the twlight zone? As a pilot of 40 plus years, I don't really understand anything this report is trying to convey???

    1. It does seem like twilight zone, because the known facts reported so far don't resolve several circumstances of the eighty five minute flight.

      The report makes it clear that the pilot did NOT chase down or hop into a runaway plane. He was not incapacitated before taking his seat in the cockpit or when he started and throttled up in front of the hangar, a normal action to begin a taxi.

      The aircraft did not go suddenly to the crash site, because the crash occurred 85 minutes after takeoff. No accounting is given in the NTSB preliminary report of aircraft whereabouts, track or altitudes for that long period of flight between takeoff and the low pass witnessed just before the crash.

      Maybe he opened the throttle to taxi, got too much power and made a decision to lift off instead of nosing the taildragger over with brakes or rolling unbraked through the turf ahead and crossing over 18/36.

      One unanswered question is what was he doing during those 85 minutes of flight between taking off at 2:15 PM and the crash at 3:40 PM? Was he on the cell phone discussing how best to handle reporting the unplanned ramp takeoff in regards to his airline pilot employment?

      SWA sent WARN notices to 1,200 pilots on December 3rd anticipating their first ever layoff. It is within the realm of possibility to want to call someone for advice after establishing stable flight to review your rights and responsibilities before landing and adding that unplanned ramp takeoff to your pilot history during this stressful time.


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