Report: Deadly Desert Plane Crash Result of ‘Loss of Control’ in Turbulence
A single-engine airplane crash near Desert Center that killed the 67-year-old pilot was the result of a loss of control'' in severe turbulence and restricted visibility, according to a report released by the National Transportation Safety Board on Wednesday.
The agency published its final findings following a 27-month investigation that began immediately after the crash that killed John "Brent" Stackhouse died on Nov. 25, 2019. His Beechcraft V35 Bonanza crashed just south of Interstate 10 between Blythe and Desert Center.
He was trying to return to Hemet-Ryan Airport after a trip to Tucson, Arizona
"The NTSB determines the probable cause of this accident to be a loss of control in flight due to the pilot's decision to fly in a mountain range, at night, in conditions conducive to high wind, mountain waves and turbulence," according to the report.
Stackhouse was returning from a visit with a friend in Tucson and encountered a windstorm as he passed Desert Center, where winds were blowing 30 to 40 mph, with higher gusts at different altitudes, according to the NTSB.
The gust front preceded a major winter storm that would wallop Southern California that Thanksgiving week. According to the NTSB, there was no evidence Stackhouse obtained weather information that would have alerted him to the intense winds on his route of flight home.
According to the report, meteorological advisories issued close to an hour before Stackhouse left southern Arizona "warned of severe turbulence and ... reduced visibilities due to blowing dust" along his route. A graphic released by the National Weather Service that morning depicted "severe weather hazards," but there was "no record of the accident pilot receiving or retrieving" these products. However, he did check conditions at airports over which he would be flying, investigators said.
His widow, Jan Stackhouse of Canyon Lake, told City News Service in 2020 that her late husband was "very safety conscious," and he "would have turned back and stayed the night in Tucson if he had known how severe the weather was."
While in contact with Los Angeles-based air traffic controllers, the 550-hour private pilot indicated that he was in extreme turbulence and asked whether a "better altitude" might be available for his westbound flight. He was told all aircraft in the area were reporting turbulence at every level, according to the NTSB.
Stackhouse did not declare an emergency. However, moments later, about 5:30 p.m., he informed controllers that he could not continue and intended to turn around and land at Blythe Municipal Airport, the NTSB said.
The agency stated that radar returns showed the Bonanza entering a continuous descent as Stackhouse made his course reversal, and the descent did not stop after the turn was finished. He was initially at 6,000 feet, but the plane continued to lose altitude over a six-minute span.
At one point, Stackhouse told controllers he was "climbing back (over) the 10 freeway" for reference, then said, "I think I've got a mountain in front of me," according to the NTSB.
About 5:40 p.m., the Bonanza impacted the ground at high speed, leaving a 500-foot-long debris field three-quarters of a mile south of I-10, in an area known as Corn Springs, according to the NTSB. Stackhouse died on impact, though it would take another five hours for first responders to find the crash site because of the winds and darkness.
"It was a very violent plane crash," Riverside County sheriff's Capt. David Teets told CNS in 2020. "It was a somber event."
Along with his wife, Stackhouse left behind two adult children. Jan Stackhouse said her late husband was a man of strong faith, and both of them believed that whatever might happen to them, flying or otherwise, was in God's hands.
"It was just his day," she said. "That's the only way for me to reconcile it."
Stackhouse did not hold an instrument rating, but his widow said he had ample night flying experience and was capable of handling challenges.
"I can't blame anybody for the situation. It happened,'' she said. "It was his dream to fly. Brent was doing what he loved to do."
Stackhouse's fatal plane crash was one of five that occurred in Riverside County in 2019. His was the last one that year.