OCEANSIDE — Federal authorities recently issued a preliminary report concerning the fatal crash of a small airplane operated by a skydiving company near Oceanside Municipal Airport, suggesting the pilots were dealing with an unresponsive throttle which resulted in the plane being unable to land safely on the runway.
The Cessna 208B aircraft operated by GoJump America crashed around 2 p.m. on June 3 near Bob Maxwell Field while attempting to descend back to the airport runway. The plane was on its sixth skydiving flight of the day and had already dropped off the skydivers before the crash, leaving just the two pilots on board.
The crash killed one woman onboard, confirmed to be a pilot in training, and severely injured one man, another pilot who was training the first.
The San Diego County Medical Examiner has identified the pilot killed in the crash as 24-year-old Mission Viejo resident Paige Halbert, who died just days before her 25th birthday.
Halbert completed ATP flight school in 2020 and had earned her certified flight instructor, certified flight instructor instrument, and multi-engine instructor licenses, according to her LinkedIn.
The injured pilot was identified on social media as Matt Wampler, chief pilot at Skydive Spaceland San Marcos in San Marcos, Texas. A GoFundMe set up to help Wampler with medical costs has raised over $21,000, and family members say he is now recovering at home.
Both the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board are investigating the accident. A preliminary report released by NTSB in the weeks following the accident provides a small glimpse into what might have caused the accident, although many details are still murky.
The report states that the “right-seated pilot,” referring to Wampler, “could not recall many of the details leading up to the accident,” presumably because of his severe injuries, but that he recalled everything going as planned with the departure and unloading of the skydivers during the flight.
During this flight, Wampler was conducting training for Halbert, who had six days of experience flying a Cessna 208 and was on her third day in the left seat.
Wampler recounted to investigators that, as the plane was making its final descent in an idle power position, he attempted to increase the engine power via the throttle twice but found it unresponsive.
With the aircraft an estimated 400 feet above ground level at this point, Wampler told investigators he aimed for an open dirt field. However, upon noticing a berm in the immediate flight path, he maneuvered the plane into a right turn.
The NTSB report states the plane struck the ground in a nose-down position before hitting the berm and coming to a stop.
The report confirms that around 50 gallons of what looked like fuel were found in the plane’s right wing, with additional fuel found in other parts of the plane, suggesting that fuel levels were not an issue. However, analysis of the engine indicates the plane could not break from the idle position during its descent, according to the report.
“The preliminary findings from the engine breakdown … were consistent with the engine running at a low power setting at the time of impact,” NTSB investigators wrote.
Investigators noted the details in the report are subject to change as complete investigations into aviation accidents can take over a year.
The June 3 accident marked the second crash of a Cessna 208B operated by GoJump near the Oceanside Municipal Airport in four months. Another crash in late February left two pilots severely injured but did not result in casualties.
The company’s operations appear to have continued as normal since the June 3 crash, with customers able to book jumps throughout the upcoming weeks. GoJump officials have not responded to multiple requests for comment.
According to NTSB spokesman Peter Knudson, the NTSB does not have regulatory authority over an aviation operator but occasionally issues recommendations to a company during an investigation. However, Knudson said the agency had not issued guidance to GoJump or the two companies that owned the planes involved in the two crashes.
The Federal Aviation Authority, however, does have regulatory authority. FAA spokeswoman Kiva Williams said companies involved in accidents generally face more scrutiny from the agency but did not clarify whether this results in restrictions or other actions.
“Speaking generally and not in relation to any specific event, the FAA typically increases its oversight of companies involved in accidents or incidents,” Williams said. “We do not comment on open investigations.
According to Flight Aware, the plane involved in the June 3 crash was operated by Nevada-based Desert Sand Aircraft Leasing Co. NTSB records indicate the same aircraft suffered substantial damage six years earlier in Baldwin, Wis., after failing to come to a stop before the end of a runway and rolling over into a ditch.
The aircraft from the February accident involving GoJump America was operated by GoSky America 5 Inc., whose president Michael Vetter is also the CEO of GoJump.