This report summarizes the findings of the National Transportation Safety Board and several reports on the probable causes of the accident that killed John Denver: human factors or aircraft design and integrity.Air traffic control records. At around 1640 of October 12, 1997, the pilot, a middle-aged male Caucasian arrived at the Monterey Peninsula Airport to conduct a practice flight on his plane, an Adrian Davis Long-EZ model with markings N555JD. At 1702 Pacific daylight time, the pilot contacted ground control and obtained a taxi-for-takeoff clearance from the hangar. At 1709, the pilot reported to the local controller that he was ready for takeoff on runway 28, and requested to stay in the traffic pattern for some touch-and-go landings. The plane was cleared for takeoff at 1712, and the pilot performed three touch-and-go landings before departing the traffic pattern about 1727. At this time the controller asked the pilot to recycle his transponder code and the latter did so.At around 1728 Pacific daylight time, the plane was flying in a westerly direction when it began to lose altitude, went into a steep nose-down descent, and hit the water. Witnesses said they heard a strong "pop" and a reduction in engine noise level just before the airplane’s impact with the water. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed from start to the end of flight.The point of impact was an area in the Pacific Ocean off Pacific Grove, California. The airplane was destroyed and the pilot, the sole occupant, received fatal injuries. Rescue workers from the area were dispatched to the site to recover the pilot’s body, secure the crash site, and recover the wreckage. An autopsy on October 13, 1997 by the Monterey County Medical Examiner revealed that the cause of the pilot’s death was multiple blunt force trauma.
Investigation of the Accident
This report summarizes the findings of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB, 1999. AW, 1999) and several reports (CNN, 1998. CIR, 1999) on the probable causes of the accident that killed John Denver: human factors (Sumwalt, 1997) or aircraft design and integrity.
Air traffic control records. The pilot did not file a flight plan. The Air Traffic Control (ATC) tapes revealed no distress calls from the pilot, who did not indicate any aircraft or engine malfunctions. A certified audio re-recording of the transmissions between the accident airplane and the Monterey ATC Tower local control position was subjected to audio spectrum analysis to identify background sound signatures that could be associated with engine trouble. Analysis of nine transmissions between 1714 and final transmission at 1728:06 showed engine speed harmonics between 2,100 and 2,200 revolutions per minute (rpm).
Accident Witnesses. Of twenty witnesses interviewed: Four saw the airplane as it was flying west. five observed the airplane in a steep bank, with four of those reporting the bank was to the right (north). Twelve saw the airplane in a steep nose-down descent, of whom six saw the airplane hit the water near Point Pinos some 150 yards offshore. The airplane was flying at an altitude estimated at 350-500 feet over the residential area.
Pre-flight Witnesses. Two pre-flight witnesses gave important testimonies related to the accident. The first was an aircraft maintenance technician who assisted the pilot in removing the airplane from a hangar. He observed the pilot perform a preflight check for 20 minutes and borrow a fuel sump cup to drain a fuel sample to check for contaminants. He did not observe the pilot visually verify the quantity of fuel aboard the airplane, nor did he see the pilot check the engine oil level. The technician and the pilot talked about the location of the cockpit fuel selector valve handle behind the pilot’s left shoulder and its resistance to being turned. They attempted to extend the reach of the handle with a pair of vice grip pliers, but this did not work, as the pilot could not reach the handle. The pilot said he would use the autopilot in-flight to hold the airplane level while he turned the fuel selector valve. The technician observed that the fuel selector handle was in a vertical position (meaning that the right tank was in