Sunday, June 20, 2021

Cirrus SR20 GTS, N62WR: Fatal accident occurred June 18, 2021 at Conway Municipal Airport (KCXW), Faulkner County, Arkansas

Zachary Edward Thicksten
January 5, 1983 ~ June 18, 2021 (age 38)

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 Entities:
Federal Aviation Administration / Flight Standards District Office; Little Rock, Arkansas
Cirrus Aircraft; Duluth, Minnesota  

Lamay-O Inc

Sparrow Flying Club

Location: Conway, AR 
Accident Number: CEN21FA277
Date & Time: June 18, 2021, 13:57 Local
Registration: N62WR
Injuries: 1 Fatal
Flight Conducted Under: Part 91: General aviation - Personal

On June 18, 2021, about 1357 central daylight time, a Cirrus SR20 airplane, N62WR, was destroyed when it was involved in an accident at the Conway Regional Airport (CXW), Conway, Arkansas. The pilot and sole occupant sustained fatal injuries. The airplane was operated as a Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 91 personal flight.

A witness reported that after the airplane departed Runway 22 at, CXW, he heard a transmission over the Universal Integrated Communications (UNICOM) frequency that stated “six-two whiskey Romeo emergency landing runway 2.” Shortly thereafter, he observed the accident airplane make a left turn and overfly runway 4 and stated that the airplane appeared “crazy fast.” After the airplane overflew runway 4, it entered a steep left bank and then spun. The airplane made one and a half rotations and then impacted the ground.

The airplane impacted the ground in a nose low, inverted attitude. the right wing fractured and pieces of the wing were located in the initial ground scar. Propeller slash marks were found in the ground near the initial impact point and contained white paint transfer signatures (see Figure 1). The propeller blades were found fractured and separated from the crankshaft flange. 

Fragments of windscreen were found in the vicinity of the propeller. During the impact sequence, the Cirrus Airframe Parachute System (CAPS) deployed and the canopy was found still bundled in a straight line away from the wreckage. The total debris field from the CAPS rocket to the main wreckage was about 110 ft. A post-accident examination revealed the pitot tube cover remained secured on the pitot tube (see Figure 2). 

The airplane’s avionics were retained for download and analysis.

Aircraft and Owner/Operator Information

Registration: N62WR
Model/Series: SR20 
Aircraft Category: Airplane
Amateur Built: No
Operator: On file
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: KCXW,276 ft msl
Observation Time: 12:50 Local
Distance from Accident Site: 1 Nautical Miles
Temperature/Dew Point: 32°C /20°C
Lowest Cloud Condition: Clear
Wind Speed/Gusts, Direction: 5 knots / 12 knots, 120°
Lowest Ceiling: 
Visibility: 6 miles
Altimeter Setting: 29.95 inches Hg
Type of Flight Plan Filed: None
Departure Point: Conway, AR 

Wreckage and Impact Information

Crew Injuries: 1 Fatal 
Aircraft Damage: Substantial
Passenger Injuries: 
Aircraft Fire: None
Ground Injuries:
Aircraft Explosion: None
Total Injuries: 1 Fatal
Latitude, Longitude: 35.025973,-92.547776 

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

In Memoriam, Fundraiser for the Thicksten Family 

Zachary Edward Thicksten, 38, of Little Rock, Arkansas went to be with the Lord on June 18, 2021, following a tragic plane crash in Conway, Arkansas.

He was born January 5th, 1983, in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, the son of Debbie and Mark Thicksten. He was the oldest of three siblings. On July 6, 2013, he married the love of his life, Helen Ruth (Ruthie) Leggett, who survives, along with their three children, Emery Ruth Thicksten (6), Luke Edward Thicksten (4), and Shepherd Zachary Thicksten (15 months) of Little Rock, Arkansas.

Zach graduated from Pulaski Academy in 2002 and attended the University of Arkansas. Zach was the successful owner of Pine Bluff Crating & Pallet, a 64 year old family-owned business.

Zach was a devoted husband, father, son, brother, and friend, an accomplished pilot, and an avid fisherman who loved the outdoors. He was a committed Christian, who loved Jesus and was a faithful husband and father.

Mr. Thicksten was a member of the Aircraft Owner and Pilots Association and New Life Church. He was an active supporter of the Dream Center as well as numerous other professional and charitable organizations.

Zach’s greatest joys were his three children, Emery, Luke, and Shepherd. He is also survived by his parents, Debbie and Mark Thicksten of Pine Bluff, Ark., brother, Nicholas Thicksten and wife Caroline of Dallas, TX, sister Molly Ellen Thicksten of Little Rock, Ark., nephews Charles and Finley Thicksten of Dallas, TX., and grandmother Erma Thicksten of Searcy, Arkansas.

He was preceded in death by his grandparents Sybil and Leonard Brazil of Pine Bluff, Ark., and his grandfather Edward Burl Thicksten of Searcy, Ark.

A visitation will be held at Smith Little Rock Funeral Home at 8801 Knoedl Ct, Little Rock, Ark., 72205 on Friday, June 25 from 5:00-7:00 p.m. and a service will follow on Saturday, June 26 at 10:00 a.m., officiated by pastor Harry Bates, at New Life Church of Greater Little Rock, located at 8000 Crystal Hill Rd, North Little Rock, Arkansas, 72118.  A private burial will follow the service.

In lieu of flowers, the Thicksten family asks that all gifts be made to the scholarship fund for the Thicksten Children at Little Rock Christian Academy. Gifts can be mailed to Little Rock Christian at 19010 Cantrell Rd, Little Rock, Arkansas. 72223, with “Thicksten Family” in the memo.

It is with great sadness that we share the news that Zach Thicksten was tragically killed in a plane crash on Friday, June 18, while flying solo. Zach was an accomplished pilot who had a passion for flying that started at the age of 16 with his first solo flight.  He was instrument rated at the age of 20. First responders were on the scene quickly, freeing Zach from the wreckage. He was then rushed to Baptist Health Medical Center but could not be saved. 

Zach leaves behind his beloved wife, Ruthie, and three children, Emery (6), Luke (4), and Shepherd (15mo). Support pledged to this Go Fund Me  will help cover the funeral expenses and ongoing support of Zach’s family, as he was the sole provider of income for his wife and children. 

Any support you can pledge to the family would be greatly appreciated. We ask that you keep the Thicksten Family in your thoughts and prayers during this difficult time.

CONWAY (KATV) — A plane crash on Friday at the Conway Municipal Airport at Cantrell Field claimed the life of a pilot.

Airport Director Jack Bell told KATV the pilot was a young man with a family. Bell said the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)and National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) are investigating the crash.

"It's pretty tragic," Bell said. "I mean he went straight nose-down. The airplane was still sticking out of ground."

According to Bell, the plane crashed about 250 yards north of the airport runway. He believes that from what he saw, the pilot was having difficulties taking off from the runway, and it appeared that he was trying to return back to the runway.

Officials with Conway police said they responded to a single-plane crash at the airport Friday afternoon and took the pilot to an area hospital.

Bell said the pilot was still alive immediately after the crash and first responders quickly arrived. But the pilot died hours later from his injuries.

"He was 38, had a wife and three kids," Bell said. "So it just makes it that much worse, especially on a Father's Day weekend. A lot of the pilots that worked with him were impacted severely by it."

According to the NTSB, the agency will likely have a preliminary report on the cause of the crash in 12 days. A final report usually takes 12 to 24 months. They said part of the investigation will be to request radar data, weather information, air traffic control communication, airplane maintenance records and the pilot’s medical records.

"It was good weather. Weather wasn't a factor," Bell said. "We just don't know. The FAA came in over the weekend and did their investigation and they're still looking at some footage and looking at some other factors. We don't know when they'll make their determination.”

Conway Municipal Airport officials said this is the first death at their airport since they moved locations back in 2014.

A pilot who was injured in a single-engine plane crash Friday afternoon at the Conway Municipal Airport at Cantrell Field died from his injuries, authorities announced Monday.

Zachary Thicksten, 38, of Little Rock had rented the Cirrus SR20 GTS from the Sparrow Flying Club based at the Conway airport. He was the only one aboard the plane, officials said.

The crash occurred shortly before 2 p.m. on Friday.

Airport Director Jack Bell said that shortly after takeoff, he turned the plane as though trying to return to the airport, and the plane crashed. The impact site was approximately 250 yards from the runway.

The Cirrus Airframe Parachute System (CAPS) was not deployed.

Thicksten was conscious when first responders transported him to Baptist Health-Conway. He later died from his injuries. He was a licensed pilot, husband and father of three children.

Conway Police Department officials said the National Transportation Safety Board is the lead agency investigating the crash. No further details were available as of press time.


  1. Farmland at both ends of the airfield.

    1. ^^Yep. He somehow lost control. Airport director said he saw the plane try and turn around after takeoff. Another sad case of try and make it back to the runway and AOA stall in a tight turn back?

    2. Not having a preplanned directly readable "I won't turnback unless higher than" altitude in their organic decision making process is what kills most of these turnback crash pilots.

      New production aircraft should have a specifically published minimum altitude lost in a perfectly executed engine out turnback performed by a test pilot with superior skills chart from the manufacturer for a range of sea level thru higher altitudes and weights.

      If checklist discipline in general aviation was effective, the checklist for takeoff would include review of a published minimum altitude lost in a perfectly executed engine out turnback performed by a test pilot with superior skills chart from the manufacturer.

      Not attempting to turn back before you have that loss height available underneath the aircraft would convert many of the fatal turnback fails into straight ahead challenges, particularly if additional height required for the less superior pilot to pull off the turnback is added.

      Pick an AGL for your personal preplanned "no turnback" limit and add that to field elevation to establish the direct-read minimum altitude for turnback. Brief that altitude required for turnback out loud as part of takeoff and stick to it.

    3. There’s no turn back in the Cirrus. You either reach CAPS deployment minimum AGL (500’ in my G2) or you put it down more or less in front of you.

  2. When Cirrus airfoil design is discussed, there's usually these concepts of a carefully muted stall from the wing stalling at two different rates, etc., but too many Cirrus accidents like this one seem to lend definition to the concept of "augering in"--steep angle and plenty of speed like it needs a lot of altitude to recover if it is possible.

  3. The crash appears to have occurred after once around the pattern, not during a turnback made shortly after rotation.

    Flightaware managed to log four ADS-B data points for the flight. The first and last data points in the track are at opposite ends of the field.

    Examining the ADS-B data to understand the Airport Director's comment that the pilot turned the plane as though trying to return to the airport, it would appear that the crash was during a turn to make a RW22 approach after completing a leg that traversed the length of the field.

    AWOS archive shows winds from 120 at 5, Gusting 12 Knots.
    KCXW 181830Z AUTO VRB04G13KT 10SM CLR 32/20 A2995
    KCXW 181850Z AUTO 12005G12KT 6SM HZ CLR 32/20 A2995
    KCXW 181915Z AUTO 17007G13KT 130V190 9SM CLR 33/20 A2994


  4. One of the Youtube experts is making the claim that the pilot did not uncover the pitot tube prior to takeoff.

    1. That "local hangar talk" pitot cover storyline also included a belief that the pilot was a low time student. When the pilot's history and ratings became known, the question became why wouldn't he be able to use displayed GPS ground speed, pitch and power to manage his return.

      The preliminary report will clear all that up. Will be another sad example of inattention to preflight if true.

    2. Use your GPS groundspeed to fly the plane? Did you really suggest that? That is a good way to kill yourself. Fly it back by pitch/power was a much better recommendation. Had a wacked out pitot/static failure in a Cherokee once, flew the plane with pitch/power around the pattern, kept the power in over the numbers, just an inch off the runway it stalled at an indicated 90Kts! Glad I flew via pitch/power.

    3. I forgot to remove the pitot tube cover once on an RV-7 after my preflight was interrupted by an admirer. I realized it shortly after takeoff but continued my flight to my destination 200 miles away using GPS. This is not a life or death situation if one doesn't panic.

    4. Anybody who claims they "stalled an inch off the runway" flying pitch and power doesn't have the insight to know that their imaginary story makes no sense. Was that Little Billy's Uncle Ted flying his Cherokee behind enemy lines?

  5. There's something like a Youtube expert??

    1. Anyone between the ages 12 to 18 is automatically an expert at just about every subject. Just ask anyone with teenagers at home.

      As for this accident, not uncovering the pitot tube is likely not the cause, I’d find that hard to believe with an experienced pilot. It was a stall into a spin, no doubt. One thing for certain, it’s a tragic loss. I’ll be sending the family my donation.

  6. Gretnabear has nailed it. You want to be a fighter pilot (?), get a Cirrus.
    I used to fly a P-51D in the 70's (Lou IV), many times. The Cirrus airplanes were more demanding, from a longevity point of view. Lovely incipient stall/spin characteristics.


  7. Prelim says pitot cover was on.

    1. Difficult to understand why he didn't pitch for shallow climb and make a broad circuit that would bring him in straight from way out so he could get a stable approach established. Sad outcome.

  8. I always do a final walkaround after my preflight. This will now include the pitot cover. I call it my suicide prevention check. Perhaps this guy was used to flying using George. There’s no reason to crash because you left a pitot cover on.

    1. Smart! The last thing I do before I hop in my plane is what I call my 'last chance check' ... I stand about 10 feet in front of my plan and do a slow circular walk around the plane looking for anything that I may have missed on my pre-flight that may either embarrass me or even kill me.

    2. Exactly how I do it. Take a step back, get a good general view of the plane, just walk around, look for anything hanging off or leaking or obvious damage. Sometimes you miss the forest for the trees. And I’ve been thinking about this accident more. How do you even get off the ground without taking the pitot cover off? “Takeoff power set, oil pressure in the green, airspeed is… not alive. Abort.”

  9. Zach was an experience pilot starting at age 16. He was IFR qualified and had a check ride in the past 10 months. He had started training the this SR a few months ago.
    The covered pitot should not have been an issue for a pilot with his experience. The question I have is why he even took off. I look at my airspeed on the roll, if it is not "alive" at 40 I will abandon the takeoff.
    It seems in situations like this when a system fails (airspeed due to cover) panic sets in and a fog comes over good judgement.
    BTW we had a significant discussion about this event on the Cirrus owner page. Someone on here made a flippant and ignorant comment about life insurance. We had a discussion about this exact issue. Many people when reviewing their policies find an exclusion for flying. Don't be so damn callous and heartless when you know nothing about the situation. Easy to be a hangar pilot with an anonymous comment.
    RIP to a good family man.

    1. not a "flippant and ignorant comment about life insurance" when a needed "Support pledged to this Go Fund Me will help cover the funeral expenses and ongoing support of Zach’s family, as he was the sole provider of income for his wife and children."

    2. Agreed! Power set...checked...Airspeed alive...every time!

    3. I think the big thing is, we aren’t used to rejecting takeoffs. We all say we’re prepared to do it. I’d say we’ve all had an experience where we question something on the takeoff roll and continue anyway, despite not being 100% certain. I know I’ve never rejected a takeoff. You have to be prepared to actually do it.

  10. My condolences to the family.

    "The most important safety device in any cockpit is a well-trained pilot", so that panic doesn't set in easily.
    If this was really about the pitot cover and as others have commented, it is no big deal, and I wonder if that's really the reason at all. One of my very experienced instructors practiced exactly that with me in a Super Decathlon and left the cover on. It was easy. Perhaps some of the gizmos in any glass cockpit will not work and allow the flight to continue as planned, but so be it and just return.

    I too read that "flippant and ignorant comment" and wholeheartedly agree with its meaning. My dependents' safety is part of my PIC responsibilities.
    Not having adequate support, including an emergency fund until any long-term support comes through, is, well, irresponsible and childish.
    After all this is mainly a hobby or a semi-professional want for many in GA.
    Denigrating a commenter pointing out an often painful issue as a "hangar pilot" shows only your ignorance, especially as sometimes staying in the hangar instead of taking off is the wise choice.

    Not reading and understanding the terms of a life insurance and adjusting/changing one is just as bad as not reading your NOTAMS.
    You are not prepared for a safe flight for everyone touched by this flight, even if not on board. It is just as necessary as renter's or owner's insurance for the plane. And so is an adequate disability insurance, BTW.
    Be a (wo)man and take that stuff serious because it really is - if not for yourself, for sure for someone else.

    Sounds harsh? Callous? Heartless? Just ask those left behind.

    Now, the above text states that "Zach was the successful owner of Pine Bluff Crating & Pallet, a 64 year old family-owned business." which perhaps provides enough support but then raises the question why a GoFundMe is even needed.

  11. An experienced long time pilot who took off with the pitot cover on. A mistake that any of us could make. Good reminder to all of us that we may not be as good at handling systems failures/issues as we think. Very sad, condolences to the family.

  12. I took a bug down the pitot just after rotation and lost my a/s on an early flight with an instructor onboard. I said "Oh No!!" He said "Big Deal....pitch and power" I learned a powerful lesson that day.

  13. I have performed turnbacks in the RAF Hawk T1A to a T&G numerous times in my military career (more than 25 times). We used a minimum airspeed (vice altitude) to ensure adequate energy level. Even with this extensive experience, I would NOT try a turnback in a GA airplane. Here's the thing, unless you practice it all the time, you don't know you're going to make it (or not) until about 2/3s the way around the turn. It is a weird looking picture and most times I was telling myself I'm not going to make it.....but when the tail wind kicks in passing the 90-degree turn point and the wind starts helping with the ground speed it becomes obvious that you can make it. There are just too many variables with density altitude, wind, runway length, surrounding terrain, and airport orientation to attempt to develop and refine survivable procedures. It is far better to put all your energy and focus on performing the BEST straight ahead landing you can.

    1. True, but this pilot still had functioning power, all the way back around. The initial comment that presumed turnback on power loss did not turn out to be the scenario.