Saturday, September 24, 2022

Loss of Control in Flight: Van's RV-6, N69HF; fatal accident occurred December 08, 2020 in Hitchcock, Galveston County, Texas

Austin Stahl

Aviation Accident Final Report - National Transportation Safety Board

Investigator In Charge (IIC): Baker, Daniel 

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

Additional Participating Entity: 
Ramon Reyes; Federal Aviation Administration / Flight Standards District Office; Houston, Texas 

Investigation Class: 3

Investigation Docket - National Transportation Safety Board:

Location: Hitchcock, Texas 
Accident Number: CEN21LA080
Date and Time: December 8, 2020, 15:40 Local
Registration: N69HF
Aircraft: Vans RV6 
Aircraft Damage: Destroyed
Defining Event: Loss of control in flight
Injuries: 1 Fatal
Flight Conducted Under: Part 91: General aviation - Personal


Before the accident flight, the pilot was seen conducting maintenance on the airplane in front of his hangar. Witnesses heard the pilot start the engine and saw the airplane take off from the hangar/ramp area and stated that the pilot appeared to be struggling to control the airplane. About 1.5 hours later, the airplane was seen flying at low altitude over a residential area before it impacted the ground. Witnesses stated that the engine was running normally before the accident and that the airplane appeared “out of control.”

Postaccident examination of the airplane revealed no evidence of any preimpact mechanical malfunctions or failures that would have precluded normal operation. Postmortem toxicology testing of specimens from the pilot were consistent with the recent use of alcohol and a sedating antihistamine. It is likely that the pilot was impaired from ingested alcohol, which contributed to his loss of airplane control. Whether effects from his use of the antihistamine also contributed to the accident could not be determined.

Although family and friends described the pilot having episodes of unusual behavior in the years before the accident, no significant medical conditions were identified during the investigation.

Probable Cause and Findings

The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident to be:
The pilot’s impairment by the effects of ingested alcohol, which resulted in the loss of airplane control and impact with terrain.


Personnel issues Alcohol - Pilot
Aircraft Altitude - Not attained/maintained

Factual Information

On December 8, 2020, about 1540 central standard time, a Vans RV-6 airplane, N69HF, was destroyed when it was involved in an accident near Hitchcock, Texas. The pilot was fatally injured. The airplane was operated as a Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 91 personal flight.

Family members and a friend stated that the pilot had gone to the airport the day of the accident to work on the airplane’s magnetos and did not take his flying gear or indicate that he would fly that day. Witnesses observed the pilot conduct maintenance on the airplane in front of his hangar at the airport. One witness talked to the pilot while he was working on the airplane and described him as “distracted,” and the pilot avoided talking to him. The witness further stated that the pilot acted “very distant,” and he thought the pilot may have been impaired.

The accident airplane was located in front of the pilot’s hangar in the ramp area that was on the north end of the airport between two rows of hangars. About 1415, one witness heard the airplane’s engine start and saw the pilot in the cockpit of the airplane with the canopy closed. He heard the engine power increase and watched the airplane take off from the ramp area to the west. He said that the airplane became airborne as it entered the grassy area between the taxiway and runway 18/36, and it bounced, pitched, and yawed erratically as it accelerated.

A pilot who was in his airplane on the parallel taxiway near the hangar area, saw the airplane “shoot out” of the ramp area about 200 yards in front of him and become airborne as it entered the grass. He stated that the pilot appeared to be having trouble controlling the airplane. He did not hear the pilot make any radio calls on ground or tower frequencies.

Additional witnesses saw the airplane fly at a low altitude above a residential area about 6 miles west of the airport. They said that the airplane flew north to south 200 to 300 ft above the ground and made a turn to the west toward the accident location, which was about 4 miles northwest of their location. They reported that the engine sounded normal. Residential security cameras also captured videos of the airplane about this time, and the engine could be heard operating at a high power setting.

About 1.5 hours after the airplane took off, a witness near the accident site reported that she heard a loud noise, and her house began to shake. She looked out her window and saw an airplane fly low near her house. She described the airplane as “out of control,” wobbling and moving unusually before it hit the ground. She said that the airplane traveled more horizontally than vertically as it descended. She said the noise sounded like an engine, and it was constant before the airplane impacted the ground.

All flight control surfaces were identified at the accident site, but flight control continuity could not be verified due to impact damage.

On his most recent application for a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) airman medical certificate, the pilot reported no medical conditions, no use of medications, and no visits to health providers.

According to the autopsy performed by the County of Galveston Medical Examiner's Office, the cause of death was multiple blunt force injuries, and the manner of death was accident.

Toxicology testing performed by NMS Labs at the request of the medical examiner identified ethanol at 0.252 gm/dl in femoral blood.

Toxicology testing performed by the FAA’s Forensic Sciences Laboratory identified ethanol at 0.160 gm/dl in liver tissue, 0.348 gm/dl in lung, 0.238 gm/dl in muscle, and 0.196 gm/dl in brain. In addition, cetirizine was identified at 60 ng/ml in cavity blood and liver tissue.

Family members and a friend of the pilot told investigators the pilot had been experiencing episodes of unusual behavior for about 4 years, for which the pilot had sought medical evaluation; however, no medical records and no record of treatment or condition were located during the investigation.

History of Flight

Enroute Loss of control in flight (Defining event)
Prior to flight Miscellaneous/other

Pilot Information

Certificate: Airline transport
Age: 50,Male
Airplane Rating(s): Single-engine land; Multi-engine land
Seat Occupied: Front
Other Aircraft Rating(s): Helicopter 
Restraint Used:
Instrument Rating(s): Airplane 
Second Pilot Present: No
Instructor Rating(s): None
Toxicology Performed: Yes
Medical Certification: Class 1 None
Last FAA Medical Exam: February 28, 2020
Occupational Pilot: Yes
Last Flight Review or Equivalent:
Flight Time: 17825 hours (Total, all aircraft)

Aircraft and Owner/Operator Information

Aircraft Make: Vans 
Registration: N69HF
Model/Series: RV6 
Aircraft Category: Airplane
Year of Manufacture: 
Amateur Built: Yes
Airworthiness Certificate: Experimental (Special)
Serial Number: 21624
Landing Gear Type: Tailwheel 
Date/Type of Last Inspection: December 14, 2019 Annual 
Certified Max Gross Wt.:
Time Since Last Inspection: 
Engines: Reciprocating
Airframe Total Time:
Engine Manufacturer: Lycoming
Engine Model/Series: O-360-A4A
Registered Owner:
Rated Power: 180 Horsepower
Operator: On file
Operating Certificate(s) Held: None

Meteorological Information and Flight Plan

Conditions at Accident Site: Visual (VMC) 
Condition of Light: Day
Observation Facility, Elevation: KGLS, 9 ft msl 
Distance from Accident Site: 9 Nautical Miles
Observation Time: 15:52 Local 
Direction from Accident Site: 119°
Lowest Cloud Condition: Clear
Visibility:  10 miles
Lowest Ceiling: 
Visibility (RVR):
Wind Speed/Gusts: 11 knots / 
Turbulence Type Forecast/Actual:  /
Wind Direction: 190°
Turbulence Severity Forecast/Actual:  /
Altimeter Setting: 30.2 inches Hg 
Temperature/Dew Point: 18°C / 9°C
Precipitation and Obscuration: No Obscuration; No Precipitation
Departure Point: Galveston, TX (KGLS)
Type of Flight Plan Filed: None
Type of Clearance: None
Departure Time: 14:15 Local
Type of Airspace:

Airport Information

Airport: Scholes International Airport at Galveston KGLS
Runway Surface Type:
Airport Elevation: 6 ft msl 
Runway Surface Condition:
Runway Used: 
IFR Approach: None
Runway Length/Width:
VFR Approach/Landing: None

Wreckage and Impact Information

Crew Injuries: 1 Fatal
Aircraft Damage: Destroyed
Passenger Injuries:
Aircraft Fire: None
Ground Injuries: 
Aircraft Explosion: None
Total Injuries: 1 Fatal
Latitude, Longitude: 29.342925,-95.004477(est)


  1. Interesting that none of his friends or family reported drinking issues, yet the toxicology shows he was likely severely impaired by alcohol levels. He was a highly experienced ATP, so more here than just being shit-faced drunk when he took off. The few times I've been drunk with friends, I have the awareness to know I drunk and operate anything (car or airplane) is the last thing I going to do.
    Clearly the schizophrenia episodes should have been medical revoking years earlier, he was likely fearful of going to the ER during one because it could've triggered some kind of notification to the FAA. That his family knew he was having these episodes but appears they didn't try to intervene in his personal flying with his RV-6 is concerning. We're fortunate he was the only casualty here.

    1. Might have been alcohol that kept him from going in the ER.

      Schizophrenia? Not sure where that came from. The episodes might well have been alcohol related or possibly some medical cause.

      My mother-in-law managed to hide her alcohol use from all of us for years. We thought the occasional stumble was due to having one eye. One of the neighbors knew. We only figured it out when she was found passed out in the grocery store parking lot.

    2. Mr. Stahl was a long-time sufferer of anxiety and panic attacks/episodes.
      His close friend, Mr. Stanton, knew of his panic attacks. The day before the fatal crash, Mr. Stanton drove Mr. Stahl to the hospital emergency room. As soon as they walked to the entrance door, Mr. Stahl started shaking, sweating, and too scared to go to the hospital. They left the hospital. Mr. Stahl had all the signs of panic.

    3. He wasn't schizophrenic or alcoholic. His debilitating mental illness was anxiety and panic attacks. He probably suffered from depression too.

    4. I was thinking he was agoraphobic, and that brought on his panic attacks.

    5. The sudden change in personality and mood for extended periods is generally clinically diagnostic of bipolar/MPD/schizophrenia. The descent to substance abuse (alcohol) is common in schizophrenics. He needed a serious psychiatric MD eval, monitoring which would have ended his flying career, and maybe saved his life.

    6. Thanks for the input … probably wasn’t just alcohol. May he Rest In Peace

  2. Taking a 5 year leave from his airline job might indicate he knew he was in big trouble. No one reports riding as a passenger. Although one interview said the "episodes" started 4 years prior, it's amazing that those around him didn't take action on the problem and claim the severity was not recognized until recently. Sounds medical until the toxicology values are revealed.

    1. It sounds like he had told a few around him that he was taking appropriate action … like the claimed MRI.

    2. The claimed MRI was likely fabricated. He lied to the AME and on the online questionnaire about mental health issues regardless of the obvious alcohol problem in order to renew his Class 1.

  3. My mom suffered from multiple sclerosis (MS). After an episode she would not remember what happened. Usually it affected her balance causing her to fall, but her speech slowly deteriorated over the years with each episode. There's a wide range of symptoms for MS, not all are alike.

    1. An MS episode doesn't cause BAC to rise by any amount. I wonder if he was drinking in the air during his 1 1/2 flight.

  4. This was one of the most puzzling accidents I read about over a year ago. And there are still some puzzling aspects of this pilot's condition, perhaps some slow but ominous physical deterioration masked by alcohol. Not sure we will ever know exactly what his state of mind was though we know he was impaired to some degree by the alcohol. Although I'm glad that no one else was injured, it still saddens me to find out that he had been having 'episodes' of some type for a number of years and that he apparently did not seek any serious professional help that might have helped him avoid this fatal flight.

  5. "Impaired to some degree"? >0.20 gm/dL blood EtOH is stumbling, falling down, double vision drunk. Some seasoned alcoholics are able to appear to function reasonably well to about 0.15-0.20 or so, but can still fail a field sobriety (balance tests)test. Above that, it becomes the obvious stumbling balance and slurring speech. His family will have to live with their failure to force an intervention to that pilot_son clearly having serious issues.

    1. Sometimes families can’t help. Why should they be sentenced to a life of guilt? Personal responsibility. I don’t blame others for my mental illness and failures.

  6. In reference to the witness statement by the father … I believe Konroe might have been an 85 Fleet Qual at United.

  7. Could be Frontotemporal Dementia or another similar condition (think Robin Williams...). This is only speculation of course, however these types of early-onset conditions are marked by personality and behavior changes such as impulsivity, acting unfiltered, uncharacteristic substance misuse, etc.. often accompanied by "anxiety" and "depression" which are vague terms if not further assessed by a proper professional. "Episodes" is a vague term as well, but panic attacks and anxiety are symptoms of alcohol withdrawal. Again this is all speculation, but I don't see another obvious explanation for a 17,000 hr pilot to start acting progressively erratically and then drunkenly crash his RV in such a theatrically haphazard manner