Sunday, June 20, 2021

Air Tractor AT-402B, N402SJ: Fatal accident occurred June 17, 2021 in Kinston, Lenoir County, North Carolina

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.
Additional Participating Entities:
Federal Aviation Administration / Flight Standards District Office; Greensboro, North Carolina
Air Tractor Inc; Olney, Texas

Eastern Flying Service Inc

Location: Kinston, NC 
Accident Number: ERA21FA257
Date & Time: June 17, 2021, 20:22 Local
Registration: N402SJ
Aircraft: AIR TRACTOR INC AT-402B 
Injuries: 1 Fatal
Flight Conducted Under: Part 91: General aviation - Positioning

On June 17, 2021, at 2022 eastern daylight time, an Air Tractor AT-402B airplane, N402SJ, was destroyed when it impacted terrain in Kinston, North Carolina. The commercial pilot was fatally injured. The airplane was operated by the pilot as a positioning flight conducted under the provisions of Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91.

According to a friend of the pilot, she spoke with the pilot via mobile telephone for the majority of the flight. She reported that the total call time was about 7 minutes long and that the pilot was utilizing a handsfree wireless (Bluetooth) device. During the call, the pilot informed her that he had just finished a full day of agriculture spraying and was departing the Mount Olive Airport (W40), Mount Olive, North Carolina to return to his home in Dover, North Carolina. The pilot also stated that during the flight he was going to perform a “flyover at the [Kinston] drag strip.”

She heard the takeoff and about 3-4 minutes prior to the end of the call, the pilot described having an issue with a “light on the wing.” She reported that at this time, she noticed that the engine noise increased and became “higher in pitch.” Just before the end of the call, she heard an impact at which time the call dropped. She reported that the engine noise was constant until the call abruptly ended, which according to her call records, was at 2022.

According to the owner of the Kinston Drag Strip, he was unaware that the pilot planned to perform a flyover during the drag race event. According to a witness at the Kinston Drag Strip, the airplane came into his view while he was assisting cars preparing to race. He reported that the airplane “dove down” over the pond northwest of the track, and then “went vertical.” He believed he observed the airplane up-side-down during the maneuver, and when the airplane reached the top of the climb, he could tell “the propeller was changing speeds when it went upside down.” He then saw the airplane rapidly descend and immediately catch fire upon impact. Several additional witnesses provided similar accounts.

Video captured by a personal electronic device showed the airplane approach the drag strip from the north at a low altitude and then enter a steep climb from an inverted attitude. As the airplane reached the top of the climb, it rolled to the right, momentarily became upright, and then rapidly descended in a nose down attitude. The airplane impacted terrain in a near vertical attitude and exploded. Figure 1 displays select still frames from the video.

The airplane impacted a 5-ft-tall chain link fence and open grass about 60 ft from the drag strip track. The airplane was destroyed upon impact, and an explosion and post-crash fire consumed a majority of the left wing; however, the remainder of the airplane sustained minimal fire damage. The right fuel tank was breached on the bottom of the wing in several areas. A small amount of fuel was observed in the tank.

All flight control surfaces were located. Several flight control push pull rods were bent or had separated. All of the observed separations displayed fracture features that were consistent with overload separation. Control cable continuity was traced from the cockpit to the control surface for all flight controls. The fuel selector valve was found in the ON position. The flap actuator extension jack screw measured approximately 3 inches, which corresponded to 22.5° of flaps extended (maximum flap travel was 26°).

The five-point seat belt harness, with deployable airbag shoulder restraints, was found secured to its attach points, and the airbags deployed.

The engine and all three propeller blades were located below the forward portion of the fuselage completely submerged in terrain. All three propeller blades remained intact and had separated from the propeller hub. One blade exhibited significant torsional bending. Each blade exhibited leading-edge gouges, and the gouges in one blade were consistent with an impact with the chain length fence.

The engine sustained significant impact damage and had fractured into two pieces aft of the air inlet screen area. Internal examination of the power section of the engine revealed leading edge gouging to several compressor rotor blades. Signs of significant amounts of ingestion of dirt and debris were observed. The fuel heater and associated fuel line remained partially attached; about 3 ounces of clear liquid that smelled of fuel drained from the line. The engine-driven low pressure fuel pump remained installed to the accessory gear box. A residual amount of clear fuel was present in the pump and it functioned normally when rotated by hand.

Aircraft and Owner/Operator Information

Aircraft Make: AIR TRACTOR INC 
Registration: N402SJ
Model/Series: AT-402B NO SERIES
Aircraft Category: Airplane
Amateur Built: No
Operating Certificate(s) Held: Agricultural aircraft (137)
Operator Designator Code:

Meteorological Information and Flight Plan

Conditions at Accident Site: VMC 
Condition of Light: Day
Observation Facility, Elevation: KISO,94 ft msl
Observation Time: 20:56 Local
Distance from Accident Site: 5 Nautical Miles
Temperature/Dew Point: 21°C /17°C
Lowest Cloud Condition: Clear 
Wind Speed/Gusts, Direction: 0 knots / , 0°
Lowest Ceiling: None 
Visibility: 10 miles
Altimeter Setting: 30.05 inches Hg
Type of Flight Plan Filed: None
Departure Point: Mount Olive, NC (W40) 
Destination: Dover, NC (NONE)

Wreckage and Impact Information

Crew Injuries: 1 Fatal
Aircraft Damage: Destroyed
Passenger Injuries:
Aircraft Fire: On-ground
Ground Injuries: N/A
Aircraft Explosion: On-ground
Total Injuries: 1 Fatal
Latitude, Longitude: 35.231441,-77.635695

Those who may have information that might be relevant to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigation may contact them by email, and any friends and family who want to contact investigators about the accident should email You can also call the NTSB Response Operations Center at 844-373-9922 or 202-314-6290.

William James Brinkley
October 9, 1968 ~ June 17, 2021 (age 52)

William James Brinkley 52, gained his heavenly wings on June 17, 2021.

A lifetime resident of the Dover / Fort Barnwell area, where he was very well known in Eastern, NC and surrounding states. James was the owner and Commercial Pilot of Eastern Flying Services, which was an aerial crop-dusting service. We have all heard that plane buzzing overhead and had a wing tipped at us to say “Hello”. Most children in the area called him the “Airplane Man”.

He is preceded in death by his mother, Mary Lou Brinkley.

Left to cherish his memory is his father, Preston Brinkley (Margie) of Dover; son, Gabe Simpkins (Megan) of Dover; grandson, Preston Jesse Simpkins; sisters, Michelle Wilson (Lee) of Kinston and Alice Lane Dale of Grantsboro; brother, Charlie Smith (Lynn) of Cove City; aunts, Violet Frazier (Dr. Richard Frazier) of Kinston, Alice Davis Spain (Sidney) of Ayden and Peggy Davis of Albertson; uncle, Billy Davis (Mary) of Kinston; nephew, Billy Joe Aldridge of New Bern and countless cousins and his special K9 co-pilot “Buddy”.

James was a dedicated member of the New Testament Baptist Church in Kinston, NC.

His faith and love in Christ showed to all who knew him because he lived it daily. James was hardworking and a high achiever. He was one of the good ones always humble and kind. This man gave his heart and soul to whoever or whatever needed his attention.

Second to his love for Christ his family was top priority, James was a family man. He was proud of his new grandson “Preston”. He was quick to show off the pictures of his new grandson. James was proud of his son Gabe, who worked alongside his father in the business. James kept a close check on his father and step mother to make sure their needs were met or to give them a call just to tell them he loved them. For those that knew James knew that Charlie was his trusted ground man. James loved his family, both biological and those he selected to be his family. As many of you can relate to his regular phone calls of “what’s going on brotha”? Or to his sister “call your brother”!

James had many, many friends, fellow Church members, Pilots, 252 Racing Buddies and so on. Those that were close to James were checked on frequently by phone calls, visits and possibly a fly over.

People were amazed at the talent he had in the job he was so passionate for. James was an adrenaline junkie some might say, for a quiet, reserved man down deep he was as adventurous as they come. Even with all the obscure flying that was part of his job, would make most uneasy, he still needed more and loved drag racing. Rest assure that James gained his heavenly wings on Thursday night and he was in the two places that he loved the most. Despite the thrills that came from his job and hobbies, it was the people he loved the most. From the pilots he flew with, to the drag racers he competed against. He always showed up to the racetrack as part of the pit crew or he made his appearance at sunset with an aerial fly over the pond. If you had the opportunity to fly with James you knew his home was in the sky. The impression that he made on so many lives is a true reflection in all the kind words, post and calls. He was a true man of God who lived life on the edge.

He knew where he was going and he was proud of where he was from, we are all going to miss his cheesy grin.

To the Son, Father, Brother, Grandpa, Nephew and Friend until we meet again, we’ll keep our eyes to the sky.

“A man who has friends must himself be friendly, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother”. Proverbs 18:24 NKJV

Visitation will be held from 6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. Thursday, July 1, 2021 at New Testament Baptist Church. Funeral service will be held at 1:00 p.m. Friday, July 2, 2021 at New Testament Baptist Church with Pastor Tim Daniels officiating. Burial will follow the funeral service at Manning Cemetery in Grifton.

William James Brinkley

LENOIR COUNTY, North Carolina (WITN) - A pilot who died in a plane crash two weeks ago told a friend on the phone that he had a “light on the wing” before his crop duster crashed in front of a crowd at the Kinston Drag Strip.

William James Brinkley had finished a full day of crop spraying on June 17th, according to a preliminary report released this afternoon by the National Transportation Safety Board.

The crash of the Air Tractor AT-402B was caught on video by at least one of the spectators who was attending a race that night. No one on the ground was hurt in the mishap.

The NTSB says a friend of Brinkley was talking to him via a hands-free Bluetooth device. She told federal investigators that Brinkley was leaving the Mount Olive Airport and was en route to his home in Dover. The man said he planned to do a flyover during the drag race event.

The woman said Brinkley told her some three to four minutes before the call abruptly ended that there was an issue with a “light on the wing.” She told investigators that she noticed the engine noise increase and it became “higher in pitch.”

The noise was constant until the call was dropped, according to the report.

A witness told the NTSB that the crop duster “dove down” over the pond, and then “went vertical.” The man thought he saw the aircraft upside-down during the maneuver, and when it reached the top of the climb “the propeller was changing speeds when it went upside down.”

The witness said the aircraft rapidly descended, and immediately caught fire when it hit the ground.

The plane hit a chain-link fence, some 60-feet from the actual track.

No cause of the crash has been determined, and it typically takes the NTSB more than a year to finalize these types of reports.

Visitation for Brinkley will be tonight from 6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. at New Testament Baptist Church in Kinston. The man’s funeral service will be held at 1:00 p.m. Friday, also at the church.

KINSTON, Lenoir County — Community members in Kinston are reacting after a crop-dusting plane crashed at the Kinston Drag Strip around 8:30 Thursday night in front of more than a thousand spectators, killing the pilot, William James Brinkley, 52, of Dover. It was the second fatal plane crash in eastern North Carolina in less than a month.

All day, people who were either at the Kinston Drag Strip last night or knew the pilot stopped to see the wreckage. One said he saw the plane crash in the middle of the track, narrowly missing the drivers who were racing at the time.

On Friday morning, investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration arrived at the scene of the crash. The NTSB has since confirmed the plane was an Air Tractor AT 402B, often used for crop dusting.

The remnants of a cropduster airplane that crashed in Kinston Thursday night still sit at the crash site as federal agencies investigate.

Many people who knew Brinkley said he was an experienced crop duster who owned multiple planes and his own landing strip and that he liked to do airborne tricks in his plane, too.

One woman didn't know the pilot but did say she saw the plane flying around this area not long before the crash.

"I saw this yellow plane flying over my van,” she said, “And it was flying really, really low. I was like, ‘Something has to be going on with the driver of this plane.’ I was on the phone at the time, and I told them, I said, ‘Well, let me go before this plane crashes.’ About 5:30 this morning I saw it on the news. I couldn't believe it."

The NTSB and FAA still have not confirmed the cause of the crash and said more information should be released in about 2 weeks.

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