Organizers, participating pilots, and spectators gathered at a Nebraska airport anticipating a four-day weekend of competitive displays of pilot skill instead confronted a grim reality on May 20: Mistakes made during routine maneuvers in an airplane can bring awful consequences.
A Cessna 140 flown by California pilot Tom Dafoe was taking part in a traditional short takeoff and landing heat on the second day of the MayDay STOL 2022 at Wayne Municipal Airport/Stan Morris Field in Wayne, Nebraska. The event had been planned to include four days of precision aviation competition.
During the fourth heat, Dafoe's Cessna rolled and dove during or soon after the base-to-final turn, and struck the ground in view of shocked spectators.
AOPA, among the event's sponsors, learned additional details from staff on location and other witnesses, as well as organizers at the event. Pilots who witnessed the accident sequence estimated that it began about 400 feet above the ground, an altitude at which recovery would have been impossible.
The emergency response was immediate, and all other activity on the airfield stopped in the moments following the accident at around 6:50 p.m. local time.
As people on the field gathered in small groups for prayer and comfort, organizers posted an alert on the event website 23 minutes later:
"Due to an onsite incident at KLCG, Wayne Municipal Airport, all events have been canceled. More information will follow."
AOPA President Mark Baker extended the association's sympathy to Dafoe's family, and to others affected by the tragedy.
"We are heartbroken that we lost a member of the general aviation community, and our thoughts are with the family and friends of the pilot," Baker said. "Law enforcement and NTSB officials are handling the on-scene investigation. We will continue to support the community as needed."