Tuesday, June 08, 2021

Van's RV-6A, N94PJ: Fatal accident occurred June 07, 2021 at Porterville Municipal Airport (KPTV), Tulare County, California

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 Entity:
Federal Aviation Administration / Flight Standards District Office; Fresno, California

Fashionable Fittings Inc

Location: Porterville, CA 
Accident Number: WPR21FA223
Date & Time: June 7, 2021, 14:20 Local
Registration: N94PJ
Aircraft: Vans RV6
Injuries: 1 Fatal
Flight Conducted Under: Part 91: General aviation - Personal

On June 07, 2021, about 1420, a Vans RV-6A experimental airplane, N94PJ, was substantially damaged when it was involved in an accident in Porterville, California. The pilot was fatally injured. The airplane was operated as a Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 91 personal flight.

The pilot departed from his home airport in Fresno, California about 1320 and landed at Porterville shortly thereafter.

Numerous witnesses at the airport observed the pilot refuel and takeoff. They stated that the pilot refueled the airplane with about 17.5 gallons at the self-serve fuel tanks located mid-field. A witness observed the pilot, positioned in the right seat, start the airplane after refueling. The start-up was abnormal and sounded as though it was a “hot start” with the airplane rpm’s immediately accelerating to a near maximum setting. The airplane then continued to the departure end of runway 04 and proceeded to takeoff. The airplane began to climb, and the engine was making “popping” sounds while continuing left of centerline. The nose pitched down, and the engine momentarily sounded normal as the airplane then climbed to about 300 ft above ground level (agl). The “popping sounds” continued and some witnesses observed that the engine then experienced a loss of power (see Figure 1 below).

Figure 1: Visual of Witness Reports

Video footage was obtained from a fixed security camera at the airport. A review of the footage revealed that the airplane made a hard right bank, with the wings near perpendicular to the ground, consistent with the pilot attempting to return to the airport. The witnesses further stated that the airplane then momentarily maneuvered to a wings-level attitude and then rolled left, akin to a snap roll. The airplane then rapidly descended in a left-wing low attitude nearly perpendicular to the terrain and immediately erupted into flames.

The accident site was located about 250 ft from the approach end of runway 12 on flat terrain composed of hard, dry dirt and short vegetation. The wreckage was found distributed over an approximate 40-foot distance with the nose pointed on a median magnetic bearing of about 350°. The fuselage and inboard sections of the wings had been consumed by fire. The first identified piece of debris was fragments of red lens, consistent with the tip of the left wing contacting the ground at the beginning of the accident sequence. From the lens fragments was pieces of propeller blades and pieces of the skin (see Figure 2below). 

Figure 2: Main Wreckage

Aircraft and Owner/Operator Information

Aircraft Make: Vans
Registration: N94PJ
Model/Series: RV6 A
Aircraft Category: Airplane
Amateur Built: Yes
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: KPTV,442 ft msl
Observation Time: 13:56 Local
Distance from Accident Site: 1 Nautical Miles 
Temperature/Dew Point: 25°C /8°C
Lowest Cloud Condition: Clear
Wind Speed/Gusts, Direction: / ,
Lowest Ceiling: None V
isibility: 10 miles
Altimeter Setting: 29.86 inches Hg 
Type of Flight Plan Filed: None
Departure Point: Porterville, CA
Destination: Fresno, CA (E79)

Wreckage and Impact Information

Crew Injuries: 1 Fatal
Aircraft Damage: Destroyed
Passenger Injuries: 
Aircraft Fire: On-ground
Ground Injuries: 
Aircraft Explosion: None
Total Injuries: 1 Fatal 
Latitude, Longitude: 36.036111,-119.07

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.

 Lt Col Billy “Taz” Sullivan

The 144th Fighter Wing family is deeply saddened at the sudden loss of one of our own. On June 7, Lt Col Billy “Taz” Sullivan suffered a fatal accident while flying his personal aircraft. 

Billy was a force multiplier for all who knew him and was truly larger than life.  His death will impact many people because he had a mission to help and connect with everyone he knew.  He had a thirst for life and wanted to share his love of aviation and passion for adventure with anyone and everyone he encountered.  

Taz was a 2006 graduate of the USAF Academy, had over 1,500 hours in the Mighty F-15 Eagle, served as both an instructor pilot and evaluator, and was recently appointed as the Director of Operations for the 194th Fighter Squadron.  He was at the pinnacle of his Air Force and aviation career and truly the future of the 144th Fighter Wing.  Our condolences and sympathies go out to his wife, Diane, and his family and friends.

PORTERVILLE, California (KFSN) -- The sound of a skipping engine caught Adrian Rodriguez's attention on Monday afternoon.

He was working outside near the Porterville Municipal Airport at the time.

"I look back, I'm looking at the airport and in between the buildings and I see it going," he said. "As soon as it lifts off, that's where the motor just shut off and you can hear him trying to turn it back on like it's trying to kick back on and nothing happened."

Rodriguez then saw the pilot of the single-engine, homebuilt plane try to turn back towards the airport.

That's when he says it took a nose dive towards the ground.

"The tree line was blocking it where I couldn't see if he maybe had brought it back up, and he dove straight down, I saw the white smoke and I knew right away," he said.

Porterville Fire crews put out the flames.

But the pilot, identified as Lt. Col. Billy Sullivan of the 144th Fighter Wing, was pronounced dead at the scene.

As part of a statement, the 144th Fighter Wing said: "Billy was a force multiplier for all who knew him and was truly larger than life. His death will impact many people because he had a mission to help and connect with everyone he knew. He had a thirst for life and wanted to share his love of aviation and passion for adventure with anyone and everyone he encountered."

On Tuesday morning, Sullivan's body was removed from the crash site and investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board had arrived on scene for their investigation.

The airport also reopened.

"After I spoke to the airport manager this morning, he said that because of the proximity of the aircraft to the end of the runway, he felt comfortable with opening up the airport," says Porterville Fire Dep. Chief Bryan Cogburn.

The plan on Tuesday afternoon, according to Porterville Fire Deputy Chief Bryan Cogburn, was to move the plane debris from the crash site to a nearby hangar, where federal authorities could continue their investigation.


  1. The registration was cancelled on June 3rd, 2020, according to the FAA.

    1. why was registration cancelled?, so many such "unknown", de-registered and unidentified aircrafts, most of the time cessna and helicopters are flying over Vegas sky?, no accountability, no oversight and simply dangerous levels of unauthorized, and morons flying in the sky. Just today, while I was posting this, a "Unknown" Cessna was loitering in the sky over west side of Vegas in Summerlin, anyone interested take a look at and see for yourself, it is a de-registered Cessna N no: DEREGISTERED AIRCRAFT: N6499D, the reason for De-registered: it was exported?, how did a exported Cessna's registration was filed in US (FAA)?... someone using the registration no of this cessna and flying or doing some sh...t spy or surveillance work or some of the agencies faking their identify using this?... one can spot a no of such unknown or unregistered crafts over Las Vegas sky!? a Lot!. Hello FAA? or Transport authorities??.

    2. Registration (Delaware) expired 1/31/2020. Registry sent canx notice (Delaware) Mar 2020. Feb 19, 2021 the builder submitted AC8050-1B Aircraft Registration Renewal Application (California). May 11, 2021, the AC8050-1B was rejected by Registry due to several errors. Registry file contains several returned attempts to notify registered owner (Delaware). Perhaps using one of the aircraft title services in OKC was a better option. Any ideas re insurance in cases like this?

  2. Condolences. The aircraft registration expired 1/31/2020. March 2020 FAA Registry sent cancellation notice to registered owner (Delaware address). Feb 19, 2021 registered owner (California address) submitted FAA 8050-1B application for aircraft registration. May 11, 2021 FAA sends notice to registered owner (Delaware address) that the application has several issues needing correction. The FAA Registry suspense file contains several "return to sender" notices.
    Perhaps using an OKC aircraft title company would have been a better option. Any ideas if an unregistered aircraft will be problematic for insurance?

  3. Farm plots available off both ends of the runway, such a terrible thing to perish attempting the impossible turn there at KPTV. Here are street views at each end, no light poles, just chain link fences and ditches as hazards - spin the views and see for yourself:

    Southeast end (Departing on RW 12):
    Northwest end (Departing on RW 30):

    1. Damn, that is truly shocking that a guy of his skill level would try to turn back with those options he seemingly had. What a price to pay to try to avoid some probable minor damage, perhaps even no damage with fields as flat as those.

    2. Perhaps it was intended to be a test hop once around the field after months of frustrating but not yet completed effort at getting the registration squared away.

      A desire to avoid landing off airport while not in compliance with requirements could influence a turn back decision if that was the true circumstance in the accident flight.

  4. Not sure why all the excitement over the registration status. You cannot attribute a registration issue to why it crashed or that the pilot or owner was somehow “dangerous” or a “moron”. The guy was obviously very accomplished. Had his engine failed a minute earlier or a minute later the outcome likely would have been completely different.

  5. Billy is a very accomplished pilot. Question about registration.. he just purchased the aircraft. I know this family personally. I also do aviation insurance adjusting and have investigated many aviation crashes. Seen many cases like this, fuel starvation was the first thing that came to mind. The engine, fuel.. all possible causes. The sad thing about this, he just got married. He's never met his niece because of covid restrictions. His mother and I are very good friends. We still grieve this loss because he's such a good person. Here's a link to his military funeral service. https://www.facebook.com/283561001712855/videos/361981608689450