[Editor’s Note: A former member who read the story about the Massachusetts Wing CAP pilot who injected morphine mid-flight and killed his passenger has advised AuxBeacon of this event back in 1989. He noted that the positive statements made by the CAP unit commander to the press were later proven untrue in the investigation.]
Civil Air Patrol pilot Eugene Wayne McKnight of Seminole, and cadets Joseph Flythe of Clearwater, Shawn Kelley of St. Petersburg and Damion Weber of Seminole were killed when their single-engine plane plunged into the Gulf of Mexico about 3 miles off St. Petersburg Beach.
McKnight and his passengers had taken off in N99901, a CAP Cessna 172P, around 1:30pm on Sunday August 13th 1989 from Albert Whitted Airport in St. Petersburg. The mission was to complete a 30-minute ‘familiarization’ flight over Egmont Key.
McKnight was a certified pilot with more than 250 flight hours.
Capt. Frank Sportell, commander of the CAP’s Pinellas County squadron, made the following statement to the press
“There was no doubt about his ability,” Sportell said. “All of our pilots are highly trained. This is the first fatal accident with an airplane in memory since the Civil Air Patrol was established in 1940.”
Updated: On September 5th 1990, the NTSB exposed the inaccuracy of Capt Sportell’s statement
A CHECK OF THE WEIGHT & BALANCE INFO SHOWED THE ACFT HAD BEEN LOADED APRX 114 LBS OVER ITS MAX WT LIMIT. RADAR DATA SHOWED THAT JUST BEFORE THE LOSS OF RADAR CONTACT, THE PLT HAD MADE TWO RAPID 180 DEG TURNS.
Probable Cause and Findings
The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident to be:
FAILURE OF THE PILOT TO RECOVER FROM A STALL/SPIN. EXCESSIVE GROSSWEIGHT OF THE AIRCRAFT AND LACK OF AVAILABLE ALTITUDE FOR SPIN RECOVERY WERE PROBABLE CONTRIBUTING FACTORS.