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NTSB finds wrong turn led to fatal Icon crashNTSB finds wrong turn led to fatal Icon crash

The fatal accident that claimed the life of renowned aircraft designer Jon Karkow and a passenger took place after Karkow mistakenly turned into a steep-sided canyon at low altitude, the NTSB concluded.

The May 8 crash happened in clear skies and light winds, and there were no mechanical problems with the amphibious Icon A5 Karkow was flying, according to the NTSB final report published Aug. 7.

The board concluded that “the pilot’s mistaken entry into a canyon surrounded by steep rising terrain while at low altitude” triggered a series of events that ended with the airplane striking the ground in a failed turnaround attempt.

Karkow was an accomplished test pilot who had designed and proven the A5’s spin-resistance flying characteristics, and he had logged 595 flight hours in the Light Sport A5. The accident flight wasn’t a test flight, however. It was a new employee familiarization flight for Cagri Sever, who had just joined Icon after years at the Ford Motor Co.

Icon Aircraft posted this photo of Jon Karkow as part of an online remembrance, noting the “team was devastated” by the loss of Karkow in a May 8 accident. Photo courtesy of Icon Aircraft .

The accident took place at Lake Berryessa, a reservoir near Icon’s factory and training facility at Vacaville, California, that’s well-known to company pilots. Karkow had flown there many times, but he wrongly turned into a place known as “Portuguese Cove,” which is adjacent to the narrow canyon that leads to the main body of the lake.

Data recorders on the airplane showed the airplane was traveling at about 54 KIAS when it entered the cove, then attempted an abrupt turnaround in which it climbed about 100 feet and banked sharply left before descending and impacting the ground at 66 KIAS.

“Once the pilot realized there was no exit from the canyon, he attempted to perform a 180-degree left turn to exit in the direction from which he entered,” the report said. “Based upon performance information outlined in the Pilot’s Operating Handbook . . . 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.”

Kirk Hawkins, Icon founder and CEO, said the accident was a “traumatic loss.”

Karkow was an engineer at Scaled Composites for many years, and he designed and test flew the record-setting Global Flyer before joining Icon.

“Jon was a legendary aircraft designer, test pilot, and unsung hero in aviation.

The company posted a tribute to Karkow online.

Dave Hirschman

Dave Hirschman

AOPA Pilot Editor at Large
AOPA Pilot Editor at Large Dave Hirschman joined AOPA in 2008. He has an airline transport pilot certificate and instrument and multiengine flight instructor certificates. Dave flies vintage, historical, and Experimental airplanes and specializes in tailwheel and aerobatic instruction.
Topics: Pilots, Accident

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