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.