Monday, April 11, 2022

Arion Lightning LS-1, N81DJ: Fatal accident occurred April 09, 2020 near Mount Pleasant Regional Airport (KLRO), Charleston County, South 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. 

The National Transportation Safety Board did not travel to the scene of this accident.

Additional Participating Entities:
Federal Aviation Administration / Flight Standards District Office; Columbia, South Carolina
Arion Aircraft LLC; Shelbyville, Tennessee

Location: Mount Pleasant, SC
Accident Number: ERA20LA150
Date & Time: 04/09/2020, 2100 EDT
Registration: N81DJ
Aircraft: Arion Aircraft LLC Lightning LS-1
Injuries:2 Fatal 
Flight Conducted Under: Part 91: General Aviation - Instructional 

On April 9, 2020, about 2100 eastern daylight time, an experimental amateur-built Arion Aircraft LLC Lightning LS-1 airplane, N81DJ, was destroyed when it was involved in an accident near Mount Pleasant Regional Airport-Faison Field (LRO) Mount Pleasant, South Carolina. The pilot and the flight instructor were fatally injured. The airplane was operated as a Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 instructional flight.

The student pilot, who had recently purchased the airplane, and the flight instructor departed Myrtle Beach International Airport (MYR) Myrtle Beach, South Carolina about 2015. A review of preliminary air traffic control (ATC) communications and radar data provided by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) revealed that after departure from runway 36 at MYR the airplane climbed and turned left enroute to LRO, about 65 nautical miles away. After climbing to an enroute altitude of about 3,000 ft mean sea level (msl) the pilot requested flight following services from ATC. About 15 miles from LRO, the pilot requested a descent into LRO which was approved; the pilot subsequently stated that they wanted to conduct a touch-and-go landing, and that they would be returning to MYR after completing the maneuver. The controller instructed the pilot to remain on their present transponder squawk code and approved a change to the LRO common traffic advisory frequency. There was no further communication with the pilot.

The airplane entered descending left turn onto final approach to LRO runway 17; the last radar target showed the airplane at an altitude of 525 ft on final to the runway. About 8 minutes later, ATC was notified by local law enforcement that a witness had reported that they heard an aircraft engine "spool up and cut out" near the airport. The map in figure 1 shows the airplane's radar track in blue, and an inset depicting the accident site in relation to the runway and airport property.

Figure 1: Accident airplane's track represented by a blue line with altitude, heading and speed annotated. The inset shows expanded view of accident site in relation to the runway and airport property.

A line service employee at MYR reported that the day before the accident flight the pilot and flight instructor completed a flight during the day. When they arrived back at MYR, they requested a fuel top off. The employee put 6.2 gallons of aviation fuel on board, which topped off both fuel tanks. No additional flights were flown until the accident flight the following evening.

Another witness stated that on the evening of the accident, the pilot and flight instructor informed her that they would be conducting a night flight and they would return late. She reported that both pilots appeared to be in good spirits as they left the building, and that the airplane's departure from MYR appeared "normal."

An FAA inspector examined the wreckage at the accident site and reported that the airplane impacted heavily wooded flat terrain about ½-mile south of the departure end of runway 17. The airplane struck the tops of 75 ft- to 90 ft-tall trees bordering the airport perimeter; several broken tree limbs, branches, and small pieces of fiberglass and plexiglass were found near the mature trees next to the perimeter security fence. The debris path beyond that point was about 250 feet long.

The airplane was heavily fragmented during the accident sequence. Both wings were separated and were broken in multiple pieces; the main wing spar was separated from the wings in its entirety. All primary flight control surfaces were separated from their respective locations and found along the wreckage path. The fuselage was heavily fragmented. The engine separated from the firewall but remained attached to the lower engine mounts and was covered by the engine cowling.

A portion of the fixed pitch propeller remained attached to the propeller flange and engine. The spinner was crushed, and one propeller blade was fractured and separated near its root. Eighteen inches of the opposing blade remained attached to the flange and was cleanly broken. A 15-+inch-long section of propeller blade was found near the main wreckage and appeared intact outboard of the break.

Flight control continuity could not be established due to the damage to all control surfaces, wings, empennage, and cockpit. Several flight control cables were found separated, and all of the separations displayed features consistent with overload.

Continuity of the fuel system could not be confirmed. Both fuel tanks were breached, and the fuel selector valve was separated from the fuselage. The valve handle was found in the left tank position.

The airplane was recovered to a secure facility and retained for further examination. 

Aircraft and Owner/Operator Information

Aircraft Make: Arion Aircraft LLC
Registration: N81DJ
Model/Series: Lightning LS-1
Aircraft Category: Airplane
Amateur Built: Yes
Operator: On file
Operating Certificate(s) Held: None

Meteorological Information and Flight Plan

Conditions at Accident Site: Visual Conditions
Condition of Light: Night
Observation Facility, Elevation: LRO, 12 ft msl
Observation Time: 2055 EDT
Distance from Accident Site: 1 Nautical Miles
Temperature/Dew Point: 27°C / 11°C
Lowest Cloud Condition: Few / 4400 ft agl
Wind Speed/Gusts, Direction: 6 knots / 13 knots, 250°
Lowest Ceiling:
Visibility:  10 Miles
Altimeter Setting: 29.61 inches Hg
Type of Flight Plan Filed: VFR
Departure Point: Myrtle Beach, SC (MYR)
Destination: Mount Pleasant, SC (LRO)  Wreckage and Impact Information
Crew Injuries: 2 Fatal
Aircraft Damage: Destroyed
Passenger Injuries: N/A
Aircraft Fire: None
Ground Injuries: N/A
Aircraft Explosion: None
Total Injuries: 2 Fatal
Latitude, Longitude: 32.885000, -79.775833

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.

Glenn Thomas Lamb
October 17, 1951 - April 9, 2020

MOUNT PLEASANT, South Carolina  - A plane crash that turned into a search and rescue mission is seeing renewed calls for accountability.

Over two years after the incident, the widows of the two men who were in the fatal 2020 crash are filing new lawsuits against airport authorities for not maintaining the height of trees near the runway.

Among those listed in the suits are the Charleston County Airport district, the Charleston County Aviation Authority and the South Carolina Aeronautics Commission.

The suits allege that on April 9, 2020, Glenn Lamb and Michael Gigliobianco were in the plane headed to the Mt. Pleasant Regional Airport, but before they could land, they hit trees near the runway, which the lawsuits allege were about 75 to 90 feet tall.

The widows, Cynthia Lamb and Mary Gigliobianco, claim in the lawsuits that the trees being as high as they were “penetrated protected airspace.”

The suits go on to claim, “Defendants had both actual and constructive notice that the erection or presence of obstacles within protected airspace posed a direct and foreseeable risk to the safety of members of the flight public.”

Following the late-night crash, the plane and its passengers went missing until just after sunrise the next day, when authorities found the wreck and identified the passengers.

Lamb and Gigliobianco say none of this would have happened if the trees were maintained and cut to a proper height.

The family of Michael Gigliobianco has hired Beasley Allen’s aviation accident lawyer Mike Andrews to investigate an aircraft accident that killed Mr. Gigliobianco and another man last April.

“Unfortunately, aviation crashes take time to complete because of the complex nature of aircraft, so it is hard for victims’ families to have to wait for answers,” Andrews said. “The family retained our firm to assist in the investigation phase of this process, and we look forward to helping them find answers and justice for Mr. Gigliobianco’s death.”

Around 8:14 p.m. on April 9, 2020, Mr. Gigliobianco, 70, and Glenn Lamb, 68, both from Myrtle Beach, took off in an Arion Aircraft LLC Lightning LS-1 fixed-wing airplane from Myrtle Beach Airport, en route to Mount Pleasant Regional Airport-Faison Field about 65 miles away. At around 10 p.m., a witness called local law enforcement and reported hearing an aircraft engine “spool up and cut out.” Authorities responded and found the plane’s wreckage in a heavily wooded area about a half-mile from the Mount Pleasant airport runway. Both Lamb, a student pilot who recently purchased the aircraft, and Mr. Gigliobianco, a flight instructor, were killed. No other passengers were on board.

According to air traffic control communications and radar data provided by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the pilot had requested a touch-and-go landing at Mount Pleasant, a maneuver common when learning to fly a fixed-wing aircraft.

The FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigated the crash. The Arion Aircraft Lightning LS-1 involved in the aircraft accident is described as an experimental, amateur-built, light-sport airplane.


  1. Lawyer greed meets grief. This is frivolous and oh so wrong.

    1. Sorry for the family's loss' but Roger' that! unfortunately these fellows came up "Short" and paid for it

    2. I can think of a couple of airports in NW Louisiana that have 90' trees off the ends of the runway. They were 2,000' from the end of the runway. Close to 1/2 mile from the TDZ. Assuming 3 degree glideslope 0.5 * 300 = 150' above TDZ if they were on GS. I wonder if the PAPI were working?

      Looking at the approach plate for RNAV Rwy 17, 3 degree GP, the MAP is 0.8NM from the runway and 307-1. I'm not saying that they were shooting an approach, just that if they were paying attention to the PAPI, which should be aligned to the GS, it would have been Red / Red... Not healthy

      Condolences to the family.

    3. Yeah over 2,000' (estimated half mile) from the end of the runway with a 75-90' tall obstacle is NOT the airport's fault. That's just a fact. More frivolous lawsuits from apparent pilot incompetence cost us all in ever increased insurance rates (and even as a rental pilot, rental rates).

    4. The 40:1 Departure Surface slope imposed on airports that have instrument procedures by Advisory Circular 150-5300-13 only allows for a 50 foot tall tree at a distance of 2000'.

      See explanation comment further down the thread...

  2. unfortunately I have seen the letters that grieving widow's receive within days of the accident. They start off all we are sorry for your loss etc and then head off into something must have caused the accident and somebody must be Responsible and then finish up with we have successfully litigated dozens of cases just like this owning families more than XXX million dollars in the process.

    Whilst now may not be the time you want to consider litigation you will need financial assistance in the future and please note we are therefore you as your most valuable asset in finding out who is to blame for this accident and therefore get a positive judgement.

    Said grieving widow's family usually waits about 2 months until the most basic part of the grief has finished and then go back to the lawyers looking for someone to litigate against and to blame for the accident.

    These ambulance chasing lawyers have Google alerts set up to let them know about every single plane accident happening in the US.

    These lawyers give paedophiles a good name

    1. Attorney's have to wait 45 days to solicit someone in an aviation accident many ignore this and they have been fined. If they make phone calls, or face to face contact the attorney can be disbarred.

    2. Advisory Circular 150-5300-13 that only allows for a 50 foot tall tree at a distance of 2000' from the runway easily wins the case for the plaintiffs.

      See explanation comment further down the thread...

    3. interesting promotion @

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      If you or a family member have been involved in an accident similar to this article and would like to speak to our national legal analysts Candice Bond or Andrew Wright free of charge, please use the contact information found on this page"

  3. in the filed 'Summons & Complaint," the Plaintiff claims without citing specifics that the Defendants are liable "In failing to obey the laws, statutes, regulations and ordinances then and there prevailing."

    1. There is a post at the bottom that references a 400+ page document but no dimensions are given.

    2. Notice that the date of the filing preserved the ability to sue by not letting South Carolina's 24 month limitation date go by, after which no lawsuit could be filed against SC entities.

  4. To be clear, the LS-1 was practicing a "touch and go" - That means it came in on Final for Runway 17, the wheels should have touched the runway and then they would have continued to take off immediately and depart directly south past the "35" markings at the south end of the runway. The wreckage was about 2,000 ft. beyond that southern end of the runway. The PAPI lights and 3 degrees slope on the RWY 17 Approach Plate have nothing to do with taking off.

    The Lightning LS-1 takes off at about 60-75 knots. That is 100 - 125 feet per second speed. The crash was 2,000 ft. from the end of the runway. And the touch and go would have been done in the first half of the runway so that gives them another 1,000 ft. of distance to climb before obstructions - so they had about 3,000 ft of space for the climb. That means they were flying about 24-30 seconds before crossing the fence and 75-90 ft trees. The Lightning LS-1 climbs at 1,200 ft. at max gross weight (which they prob. were). That is quite a long time. They should have been at 400-600 ft. by the time they crossed the fence and trees.

    There must have been some other issue - engine problems, electrical/instrument failure, some distraction by both pilot and instructor causing them to not monitor climb attitude or altitude. This is all very sad but if they could not climb 75 ft. in a half mile then they would have likely impacted any number of obstructions. These trees are not the root cause of the accident.

    1. ur drawing a conclusion that PIC touched and departed in the first half of 3700ft. Ur "And the touch and go would have been done in the first half of the runway." is not verified from info provided.
      April 9, 2020 "Waning Gibbous Illumination: 97%."
      as noted KLRO Elevation: 11.6 ft. / 3.5 m (surveyed)
      last return approx 5000 ft from the numbers "Thu 20:54:21 32.9183 -79.7850 ↙ 234° 84kts 97mph @ 600ft -764 Descending" from flightaware.

    2. Oh... I thought this was an approach to land problem. Your last paragraph makes sense.

  5. The runway at KLRO is relatively small at 3700 feet (compared to the 9500 they had when they departed KMYR)

    The winds were reported as 250 at 6 gusting 13, so a direct crosswind at 13ish knots. The maximum demonstrated crosswind component was 15 knots.

    Generally speaking, touch and go's at night can be dangerous. That is why the FAA specifically specifies "full stop" when making landings for night currency. They do not want to encourage touch and go's.

    As people get older their eyesight diminishes. Both of these men would have been forced to retire several years ago due to age if they were airline pilots.

    It sounds like a 68 year old student pilot attempted to land in a strong crosswind on a small runway and likely landed long. Instead of taking it to a full stop/taxi back for departure they likely followed through on their intentions to conduct a "Touch and go" and took off on minimal runway and crashed into trees at the end. At 68 and 70 years old, neither of them may have even seen the trees at night until it was too late.

    Even if the trees had penetrated the Part 77 surface they would have not been a factor if the full length of the runway was used. This is more of an issue of not being aware of take off distance. The POH only shows a takeoff distance chart stating at around 80 degrees (27 Celsius) you need approximately 900 feet to takeoff. That is not "distance to clear a 50 foot object" that is included in several other POHs.

  6. The lawsuit is correct. The tree heights exceed FAA standards.

    This is an airport design/management issue, a subtle gotcha that any airport with instrument procedures is subject to. It matters not where along the runway the T&G touched or why the aircraft didn't climb, or that a power loss crash would have gone into lower-height trees further ahead even if the standard was satisfied, or whether the trees were on private land, or that it was a VFR departure.

    The lawsuit takes advantage of a design standard detail contained in FAA Advisory Circular 150-5300-13 that imposes obstacle-free departure and arrival slopes associated with the instrument procedures. The obstacle-free slope relevant to this lawsuit is defined as the "Departure Surface".

    Advisory Circular 150-5300-13A Change 1 was in effect at the time of the crash. As described on page 52 (pdf sheet 66), "Departure Surface is a slope of 1 unit vertically for every 40 units horizontally (40:1). For runways that have a clearway, the departure surface begins at the far end of the clearway at the elevation of the clearway at that point."

    The fence boundary is at the end of a cleared area positioned at the departure end of RW17 as the accident aircraft climbed up the Departure Surface. Having 75 ft- to 90 ft-tall trees bordering the airport perimeter at the fence boundary has to be evaluated against the AC 150-5300-13 requirement.

    For simplicity, don't even count the cleared area beyond the departure end of the RW17 pavement as clearway. The 40:1 requirement would then require that a 75 foot tree be no closer than 3,000 feet away from the runway pavement end, and a 90 foot tree has to be at least 3,600 feet from the end. Adding any clearway distance pushes the trees further away still.

    The preliminary report Figure 1 diagram showing those trees of that height about 2000 feet from the end of the pavement wins the argument for the plaintiffs. Letting trees grow above 50 feet high at 2000 feet from the pavement was a failure to meet airport management responsibilities in this circumstance.

    1. FAA's ACs are not mandatory and does not constitute a regulation. "Advisory Circulars are informational documents produced by the Federal Aviation Administration to inform and guide institutions and individuals within the aviation industry, as well as the general public. Advisory Circulars are intended to be informative in nature and not regulatory; however, many times they describe actions or advice that the FAA expects to be implemented or followed.

      ACs can be distributed by the FAA to an audience of pilots, mechanics, operators, airport managers, manufacturers, and the general public. The subject of advisory circulars typically involves aircraft, airports, flight schools, pilots, operations, or maintainers. Advisory circulars can be directional, informational or descriptive. They often describe how the FAA wants things should be done, best practices for operations, or clarification of a new regulation.

      The FAA issues advisory circulars for many reasons. Standardization is one common reason. As there are often many ways to interpret regulations and many ways to implement a specific operation, an advisory circular can offer specific guidelines for the aviation industry when the regulations or requirements are otherwise vague."

    2. In the case of Advisory Circular 150-5300-13, the circular explains how to meet requirements that are not advisory in nature.

      From page 11 (pdf dheet 26):
      "Maintenance of obstacle clearance surfaces. Federally obligated airports are subject to Grant Assurances 20 and 21 which require the protection of the approach and departure surfaces."

      Grant terms impose departure surface maintenance requirements, unless the airport authority never participated in granta.

      The duty of care principle is informed by the maintenance requirement. The demand for a jury trial in the filing ensures that the plaintiffs will prevail.

    3. for airports receiving federal AIP funding Advisory Circulars become mandatory to maintain the funding. There are many "little airports" in the last decade who have lost access to AIP funds because they are unable to comply with various Advisory Circulars. While circulars are not mandatory for pilots they are very much so for airports who want funding.

  7. Cherry picking a 400+ page document. :)

    1. The lawyers are making the airport authority live up to the duty of care principle in accordance with what is stated in applicable requirements.

      Pilots understand that trimming those trees to be 50 feet high instead pf 75 to 90 feet high wouldn't have changed the outcome at the point where pilot error or machine malfunction put the aircraft into a collision path with the trees.

      The lawyers only have to show that the departure surface was not maintained within specified requirements. You can be certain that the lawyers have already determined that grant money provisions impose the maintenance requirement as described in the circular.

      What looks like cherry picking to a pilot can be persuasive to a jury by simple explanation of the 40:1 departure surface requirement.

    2. If someone is killed in a SC plane crash, their surviving family members (the spouse and children or parents and heirs if there is no spouse or children) can recover the following compensation by filing a wrongful death lawsuit:

      Funeral and burial expenses
      Medical bills incurred by the deceased before their death
      Property damage
      Loss of consortium damages
      Mental anguish suffered by the surviving family members

  8. Possible cause loss of control from spatial disorientation as a result of departure into a moonless night.
    April 09, 2020 the moon was under the horizon @ 2100 hours per if I understood the charts @

    1. That's pretty easy to do. When I first got my ticket I flew my young family from Minden, LA to Hallettsville, TX. We left late and about 1/2 of the flight was after dark on a moonless night. No big deal... I have all of those night hours (the minimum) from training. I will never forget the feeling of the "stupid airplane turning for no reason" when we got over an unpopulated area in East Texas. I was starting to get nervous when I realized what was going on. To this day I'm very thankful to the instructors that insisted on more hood time than the minimum. I eventually had ground lights for reference and we made it home fine. A few years ago I was getting back into aviation. The instructor and I were doing steep turns down near Port O'Conner, TX. As the nose swung around and pointed to the water I lost the horizon. The sky and bay became one. I said something to the instructor and got on the gauges. He made a mental note to be wary of that happening when he took his students down there. It's definitely a possibility for this one.

  9. Clearing the trees should not have been a problem even if the "touch and go" was long and late and they lifted off on the "35" numbers heading southbound. At take-off speed the would have covered the 2,000 ft. distance to the airport perimeter fence in 16 to 20 seconds. Even at a degraded rate of climb of 1,000 fpm in the LS-1 they should have been at 265 to 400 ft above ground when crossing the trees. That is more than enough with plenty of safety margin. Also the charts note 4 degree PAPI angles (vs the standard 3 degree) because of obstructions. The student pilot/owner and instructor should have anticipated the need to have a good clean climb - they may not have properly briefed before flight.

    There must have been some other problem. As mentioned above disorientation may have occurred. Also, if they were heavy men the LS-1 could have been over max gross. (It only has about 470 lbs Useful Load. The Prelim notes that the 20 gallon tanks were topped off on take off at KMYR - maybe they burned 4 gallons getting to KLRO. That leaves 16 gallons (96 lbs) reducing Useful Load to 374 lbs. for both men). There may have been an engine issue.

    It also should be noted that Aviation Consumer Magazine states that the Lightening LS-1 should not be used as a training aircraft. They quote the plane designer that it was not designed to be used as a trainer. "The Lightning is one of the few LSAs that is not intended to be used as a primary trainer. “Although a very few buyers have learned to fly in their Lightnings, we did not design it for flight training,” explained Arion’s Nick Otterbach, one of the lead designers of the airplane." Mr. Lamb, age 68 and owner of the LS-1, was a Student Pilot.

    Aviation Consumer also notes that the Achilles heel of the LS-1 is its poor Useful Load.

    This crash is tragic. The trees are not the primary cause of the crash. The Lightening LS-1 should not have been used for training. The Instructor should have refused - Instead he should have said that Mr Lamb should get his PPL in a Cessna 172 and then he would transition to the LS-1. The plane was potentially overweight (especially at takeoff for KMYR) - in any event even at Max Gross performance is deteriorated. They should have properly briefed and known that they needed to maintain higher clearance. The instructor should not have put the student in such marginal conditions - moonless/no horizon, short runway, marginal clearance, wrong plane for training and at or over Max Gross. And if the "touch and go" was botched they should have either aborted the landing earlier (go around) or aborted and stopped and taxied back for a proper takeoff.

    1. agree. What is also possible, student pilot Mr Lamb was returning to aviation after a long absence.

  10. A giant of a man, plus ostensibly a more than 100 pound instructor, put this airplane over gross; period.
    I flew one of these things in my fifty plus years as a pilot.
    It was a slippery delight.
    Maybe the parasitic lawyers should go after the flight instructor's estate.
    After all, this appears to be just another act of stupidity.

  11. Bad piloting, or malfunction?

    This aircraft was equipped with a GRT EIS 6000J Engine Monitor and there was no fire. The Jabiru 3300 engine had the cowling around it when it came to rest. No reporting of engine condition or recovered monitor data so far.

    Build instructions show that initial per-aircraft tuning was required to work out Bing carburetor jetting for every as-installed prop pitch on the Jabiru 3300 setup in this 2010 aircraft configuration. Cooling plenum baffle trimming and rechecking to get the proper CHT readings was another task.

    There is no pilot's mixture control knob on a Jabiru 3300 Bing setup, but your mechanic can tilt the carb in the mount a bit to change how the swirl effect distributes fuel left or right as one of the cylinder head bank temp equalization tricks.

    Here it is two years later but no information is published yet on whether engine monitor data recovery was attempted or failed and what a simple initial inspection showed for visual condition of cylinders, pistons, valves, spark plugs, etc on the recovered Jabiru 3300 engine.

    Comments posted here are reasonable regarding causal possibilities and circumstances that the training was operating under on that fateful night but are still highly speculative without any engine condition report or performance data that may or may not have been recovered from the monitor.

    N81DJ sale listing with photos dated 2013 link:
    (No Hacman aftermarket mixture control knob visible in panel photos)

  12. 120knt max cruise? That airframe is slippery enough to go much faster than that.

  13. Had those trees been 3' tall, the outcome would have been the same. Unless you are an idiot or a sleazy lawyer, it is clear to anyone that the tree height was in no way causal to the accident -- even if they were "too tall". Tragic, of course. Someone else's fault? Please.

  14. NTSB final report came out 2 days ago, probable cause reads as follows:

    The pilot's failure to maintain clearance from trees at the end of the runway due to spatial disorientation during initial climb in dark night conditions. Also causal was the flight instructor’s inadequate monitoring, which did not identify and prevent the descent and subsequent collision with trees.