A Likely Story
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has released its final report on a 20 June 2021 Likely, California accident in which a Kitfox Series 6 aircraft operated under Part 91 of the Federal Aviation Regulations suffered substantial damage after impacting the ground shortly after takeoff.
At approximately 09:00 PDT on the morning of 20 June 2021, a SkyStar Kitfox Series 6, registration N617Y—a small, two-seat, side-by-side, high-wing, single-engine kit aircraft deriving of the Denney Kitfox—attempted to depart an open field in the vicinity of Likely, a hamlet in upper north-eastern California.
The aircraft’s pilot initially attempted to depart on a westerly heading but reportedly failed to attain take-off speed. Witnesses near the accident site heard the aircraft’s engine sound decrease, then looked on as the pilot turned the machine 180° and initiated a second takeoff roll on an easterly heading.
The aircraft became airborne some twenty-yards from a canal road and climbed to approximately ten to twenty-feet AGL. As the airplane approached the canal, it descended, impacting the earthen structure’s upper eastern edge before spinning around and sliding into the water. The pilot had no recollection of the accident sequence.
Examination of the aircraft’s wreckage revealed neither airframe nor engine anomalies. Damage signatures and witness accounts indicated the engine was producing power at the time of the accident.
The 1,150-foot departure field comprised rough terrain with vegetation about two-to-three feet in height. The calculated density altitude at the approximate time of the accident was 6,635-feet, with a pressure altitude of 4,297-feet.
Investigators concluded the height of the vegetation most likely increased resistance on the Kitfox’s tires during the takeoff roll, thereby reducing the aircraft’s acceleration. Excessive ground friction in conjunction with prevailing high density-altitude conditions precluded the aircraft’s attaining sufficient take-off speed in the available field length. Consequently, the aircraft was unable to maintain flight out of ground-effect, and impacted terrain.
Investigators attributed the accident to the pilot’s poor decision-making—evinced by his attempt to take-off from a field overgrown with tall vegetation under high density-altitude conditions. The confluence of insufficient take-off speed and poor aircraft performance secondary to low atmospheric density resulted in the death of one of the aircraft’s two occupants, the serious injury of the other, and substantial damage to the aircraft itself.