Private Sunday October 12, 1997
The aircraft had just finished performing 3 touch-and-go landings at Monterey Peninsula Airport. Shortly after taking off a fourth time, witnesses heard the engine make popping noises, bank to the right, pitch up, and go into a steep dive from about a 500 foot altitude and crash into the sea about 150 yards offshore. Singer John Denver, 53, who was piloting the plane, was killed. Denver, an experienced pilot with over 2,800 flying hours, had only a little over an hour in the experimental plane. The accident was caused by the inadvertent application of right rudder by the pilot as he attempted to manipulate the fuel selector handle. The unmarked fuel selector handle in this aircraft was located in a hard to reach area behind the pilot's left shoulder, instead of between his legs. This required removing his harness and reaching behind. While turning around, he inadvertently pressed down on the plane's right rudder pedal causing the aircraft to roll and go into a dive. Contributing factors were, Denver took off with too little fuel in one tank which led to the necessity of switching to his backup tank. Also it was difficult to determine how much fuel was in the tanks due to the unmarked fuel quantity sight gauge.