NTSB: Flying boat pilot in fatal crash had been drinking, performing stunts
The pilot involved in a fatal “flying boat” crash off Dewees Island last summer had been drinking and lacked a valid license to operate the ultralight craft, according to federal investigators.
In a final report on the crash, the National Transportation Safety Board stated that pilot Lucas Smith had been performing aerial stunts that overstressed the craft’s wing, causing it to fold. Investigators found no pre-existing problems with the craft that contributed to the crash.
The accident occurred on the evening of July 20, 2011, killing Smith, 40, and passenger Cara Lee Donohue, 27. Smith was a local yachtsman, and Donohue his first mate. The popular Mount Pleasant residents worked together on Smith’s charter boat, the Osprey.
The NTSB said that the unregistered, experimental Polaris Polar Star — a rubber raft connected to an engine and a parasail — was badly damaged from hitting the water.
According to the report, witnesses to the accident told the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office that they observed the flying boat “perform an aero-loop and started to perform another loop.”
When the flying boat was at the top of the loop, it flipped over at about 1,000 feet above the water, and the wing folded. “The flying boat dropped straight down into the shallow water,” the report said.
Within a few minutes, boats approached the wreckage to attempt a rescue. One person was trapped in the wreckage and the other was found floating in the water. They received CPR as they were being brought to the dock at the Isle of Palms Marina, but were too badly injured to survive and were pronounced dead when they arrived.
The NTSB stated that Smith lacked a pilot’s license and the minimum certification required: a sport pilot license. The flying boat also lacked proper registration, the NTSB stated.
Smith had a blood alcohol level of .069. Federal law bars anyone from operating an aircraft if their blood alcohol level exceeds .040, according to the report.
Friends and family have described the pair as adventurous.
Smith’s father told the The Post and Courier that his son was a skilled ultralight pilot who had flown the craft for many years. The craft was purchased in Florida from an owner who gave his son instruction in how to fly it, Ellison Smith has said.
“Lucas was always a risk-taker,” he told The Post and Courier last year. “He liked being on the edge of stuff.”
Reach Glenn Smith at 937-5556 or Twitter.com/glennsmith5.