Ventura County

NTSB releases Prelim Report into Ventura County plane crash that killed pilot, son

Plane took off from Camarillo Airport

VENTURA COUNTY, Calif. - The National Transportation Safety Board has released an Aviation Accident Preliminary Report into the deadly crash of a Piper plane in Moorpark that killed a commercial pilot and his 15-year-old son on June 4.

The report provides additional insight into the moments leading up to the crash. The three-page report says the plane took off from the Camarillo Airport and no flight plans had been filed prior to departure. 

"The pilot reported to friends that he planned to fly to Santa Cruz Island and then back over an equestrian neighborhood in Moorpark, where his daughter was receiving horse riding lesson," says the report.

The pilot, 57-year old James Harlan, kept his promise and flew over an outdoor horse arena where his daughter was. "The pilot's daughter exclaimed to them [riding instructors] that she could see her brother in the front left seat as the airplane passed by," the report states.

The NTSB says it wasn't unusual for the pilot's son, 15-year old Dylan Harlan, to fly with his father from the left as he had been doing so since the age of 13. The plane was equipped with dual controls.

Witnesses said they heard the plane's engine start to "sputter" as the plane began heading back in the direction of the arena for the second time, but this time at a lower altitude than before. 

"One witness stated that the turn and engine sound were reminiscent of an airplane performing aerobatic maneuvers at an airshow. The turn progressed, with the nose pointing up, and then dropping back down, as the airplane passed out of view behind trees," the report says.

The NTSB says another witness stated, "the airplane pulled up before reaching the power lines, and immediately rolled aggressively to the right."

The plane crashed about 600 feet south of the arena where Harlan's daughter was taking her horse riding lessons, according to the report. Part of the plane's forward section had folded back over the tailcone and was inverted. The engine, instrument panel and leading edges of both wings were crushed in the crash.

To read the full NTSB preliminary report, click here. The incident remains under investigation.

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