Builder says plane is safe, crash likely pilot's fault Brother rejects theory of Viagra-impaired ability

November 25, 1998|By Devon Spurgeon | Devon Spurgeon,SUN STAFF

Manufacturers of the experimental mail-order plane that nose-dived into Beards Creek on Saturday defend the integrity of their product and speculate that pilot error, not mechanical problems, caused the accident that killed actor William Gardner Knight.

Federal investigators, tipped off by a prescription bottle found among Knight's belongings, suspect that the pilot made a fatal mistake while impaired by the side effects of Viagra, though they have not ruled out other causes.

They sent blood and tissue samples yesterday to Federal Aviation Administration laboratories in Oklahoma City, where a test is being developed to help determine whether Knight, 56, had the impotence drug in his system.

Knight's brother, Milton Knight of Ohio, blamed the accident on mechanics.

"I think it is ridiculous. [Viagra] doesn't have anything to do with it. To me, it is a mechanical error unless Viagra got into the fuel system," he said.

The Burgess RV-6 crashed Saturday as Knight tried to land at Lee Airport in Edgewater.

There are 800 RV-6s operating worldwide. The National Transportation Safety Board has recorded 48 accidents involving the craft since 1986, including 14 deaths.

Dick Vangrunsven, who manufactures the kits from which the planes are assembled in North Plains, Ore., said the RV-6 "has no identifiable problems. It is high-performance and more sporty, handling more like a sports car than a sedan."

"They land real slow and are very maneuverable. As far as design, they are probably one of the best-built home planes," said Alan R. Barrigar of Goldendale, Wash., who owns an RV-6.

Knight was an experienced pilot who was passionate about World War II planes. He moved to Delray Beach, Fla., two years ago and planned to become a real estate agent next month. He had worked in naval intelligence, played small roles in several Oliver Stone movies, written a novel, performed commercial voice-overs, organized air shows and worked on Wall Street.

Knight regularly flew out of Lantana Airport, south of West Palm Beach, Fla.

"He was an excellent airman, highly qualified. He'd flown lots of different airplanes," said Owen Gassaway, president of Florida Airmotive, which operates Lantana Airport. "He was able to go with the big boys."

Gassaway said Knight kept informed of aviation news and probably was aware of an FAA warning against pilots taking Viagra within six hours of flying. Viagra can impair color vision, making it difficult to distinguish between blue and green, which are used extensively in airport lighting and cockpit instruments.

Investigators would not disclose the colors of Knight's plane's interior lighting system. RV-6 assembly kits allow owners to determine what colors are used to light the cockpit instruments.

Lee Airport has red and white runway lights, with a green rotating beacon light.

Pub Date: 11/25/98

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