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."