Monday, September 05, 2022

Rutan VariEze, N10EZ: Fatal accident occurred September 05, 2022 near Columbia Airport (O22), Tuolumne County, California

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

Aircraft crashed under unknown circumstances while landing. 

Time: 18:31:00Z
Regis#: N10EZ
Aircraft Make: RUTAN
Aircraft Model: VARI EZE
Event Type: ACCIDENT
Highest Injury: FATAL
Total Fatal: 1
Flight Crew: 1 Fatal
Pax: 0
Aircraft Missing: No
Activity: PERSONAL
Flight Phase: LANDING (LDG)
Operation: 91

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.

Ken Lancaster

A Cal Fire tanker pilot is dead after an off-duty plane crash Monday afternoon near the Columbia Airport in Tuolomne County.

It's a heartbreaking loss for the Calfire community. And plane crash landing just behind a home. People who live here believe this pilot made every effort to avoid hitting homes.

Cal Fire air Tanker Pilot Ken Lancaster was killed in an off-duty small plane crash close to the Columbia Airport. He flew tankers in and out of fighting wildfires across Northern California

Sheriff's deputies are watching over the crash site of Lancaster's private single-engine plane. The wreckage was out of view in the backyard of a nearby home. No one was inside at the time of the crash.

"Well, first of all, my heart goes out to his family and relatives," said nearby resident Johnny Etheridge. 

Ethridge lives down the street and says planes flying overhead as they come in for landings at Columbia Airport are common. 

"If you go just south, probably less than a mile, is the approach to the airport," he said. So we're very close."

Flight Aware data shows a plane matching the description of Lancaster's was returning to the airport after a one-hour flight.

The FAA is investigating the cause of the crash.

"Whatever effort he made to avoid the house, he didn't land that far behind this lady's house -- kind of over in the rocks there so it could have taken other people's lives," said Ethridge.

Losing his own life in a plane crash..his final act..may have been seeking to save the lives of others.

The wreckage is still behind the house in a spot that will make removal difficult. The NTSB and FAA will be continuing their investigation.


  1. Trivial winds at O22's AWOS reference (KCPU, 13 nm NW):
    KCPU 051835Z AUTO 35003KT 10SM CLR 39/05 A2985
    KCPU 051815Z AUTO 00000KT 10SM CLR 38/05 A2986
    KCPU 051755Z AUTO 00000KT 10SM CLR 38/06 A2986
    KCPU 051735Z AUTO 00000KT 10SM CLR 37/06 A2986
    KCPU 051715Z AUTO 12003KT 10SM CLR 36/07 A2987
    KCPU 051655Z AUTO 00000KT 10SM CLR 33/06 A2987
    KCPU 051635Z AUTO 15003KT 10SM CLR 31/06 A2987
    KCPU 051615Z AUTO 14003KT 10SM CLR 29/05 A2987
    KCPU 051555Z AUTO 20003KT 10SM CLR 28/05 A2986

    (WX reports above cover time period from the Flightaware 9:47 AM PDT (UTC-7) end time of 16:47Z through to the 18:31:00Z time given in the report header.)

  2. I spoke with Ken a few times at the 022 campground. I believe he was living there in an RV. Nice guy who took the time to talk about his experience flying with CalFire. Very sad.

  3. CalFire tanker 83 at O22 last weekend.

  4. Most likely an engine-out problem. Commercial, SEL and MEL rated pilot. No convective TRW WX, nor turbulence nor carb icing are likely factors here. Hot day VFR. Returning to his airport with field elevation 2,121'. From the KCPU AWOS data (FE 1,328') the DA for O22 at crash time was around 5,200' (assuming a 2 degree cooler, 36┬║C OAT at 800ft higher O22 FE). Registration shows a Continental O-200 installed. That engine would need to be leaned considerably at pattern altitude DA of 6,200' to keep it running smoothly in idle. These O-200's can cough and sputter up from throttle pushup from idle to full power if flown too rich. Just a thought.