Final Report on ICON A5 Crash at Lake Berryessa

NTSB Releases Final Report On ICON A5 Lake Berryessa Accident

Federal investigators conclude that pilot error caused double-fatality plane crash at Lake Berryessa

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has released its final report on the May 8, 2017, accident in which ICON Aircraft employees Jon Karkow and Cagri Sever lost their lives.

The pilot, Jon Karkow, of ICON Aircraft in Vacaville, was flying too low and mistakenly entered a canyon surrounded by steep terrain, the report stated. 

It is likely that the pilot thought he was in a different canyon that led to the larger, open portion of the lake, the NTSB said.

It is likely that, once he realized there was no exit from the canyon, he attempted to perform a 180° left turn to exit in the direction from which he entered. 

He climbed the amphibious aircraft to about 100 feet above the water and “accelerated hard” in an attempt to climb out of the canyon, according to a witness. Shortly after the witness lost sight of the plane, he heard it crash.

“Based upon performance information outlined in the Pilot’s Operating Handbook for the accident airplane, the airplane’s altitude above the water’s surface and its indicated airspeed, and the ridge line elevations in the area adjacent to the accident site, the airplane would have not been able to climb out of the rising terrain that surrounded the area, which led to his failure to maintain clearance from terrain,” the report reads.

The NTSB determined the probable cause of this accident to be the pilot’s failure to maintain clearance from terrain while maneuvering at a low altitude. 

Contributing to the accident was the pilot’s mistaken entry into a canyon surrounded by steep rising terrain while at a low altitude for reasons that could not be determined.

According to the report, Karkow had taken off from the Nut Tree airport in Vacaville at 8:50 that morning. The plane reportedly crashed at 9:08 a.m.. Shortly after 9 a.m., ICON was notified that an Emergency Locator Transmitter (ELT) was transmitting. ICON staff immediately got in another aircraft and flew to Lake Berryessa.

Right before the crash, a witness who was fishing in a boat with a friend, saw the plane flying over the lake. In a statement to the NTSB, the witness reported seeing the airplane shortly after 9 a.m., about 30 to 50 feet over the water at a cove called Little Portuguese Canyon. The pilot was flying about 30 to 40 mph.

“As the plane passed I waved to the pilots and they waved back,” he said. “Everything seemed normal. It appeared as if they were just cruising the lake or coming in to land on the water.”

Five seconds later he heard the engines rev up and accelerate hard. The plane appeared to be trying to make a U-turn. The plane flew behind a point and then three seconds later they heard a very loud crash and instantly knew the plane had gone down.

Driving the boat over to site “as fast as we could,” they approached the left embankment of the cove and called out to the two men, “‘Are you OK? We’re here to help you.’”

There was no response. “We did not know if they were alive.” They got off the boat at the crash site to check on the men and saw they were both unconscious and not moving. 

Both men appeared to have neck, back and leg injuries and were bleeding from the face.

Driving their boat back toward the Pleasure Cove marina, the two men called 911 and also made contact with a marina employee. 

Members of the Napa County Sheriff’s Office, Federal Aviation Administration, officials from Cal Fire and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation came to the crash site.

Post-accident examination of the airframe and engine revealed no evidence of any pre-existing mechanical malfunctions that would have precluded normal operation, said the report.

“I want to thank the NTSB for its professionalism and thoroughness in this process; this is an important step in reaching closure for the families of Jon and Cagri as well as the ICON team after such a traumatic loss,” said ICON CEO and Founder Kirk Hawkins. 

“Jon and Cagri were both extraordinary individuals and are missed tremendously. Cagri had recently joined ICON as a star engineering leader from Ford Motor Company. 

Jon was a legendary aircraft designer, test pilot, and unsung hero in aviation. He was a founding member of the ICON team, the lead aero engineer on the A5, and a core part of ICON’s DNA.

The A5 not only reflects his genius, it represents his love for flying in its purest form–it was his final gift to aviation. The ICON family is committed to carrying the flag forward in Jon and Cagri’s honor.”

ICON Aircraft has resumed customer deliveries. ICON delivered six of its A5 light sport amphibious aircraft to customers in June and July.

*****                       © Peter Kilkus 2018