Federal Aviation Administration

NTSB: Passenger in Fatal El Capitan Plane Crash Signed Up for ‘Top Gun' Experience

Witnesses told the National Transportation Safety Board they saw the plane performing "aerobatic-like" maneuvers before crashing.

A passenger who was one of two people killed in a plane crash at the El Capitan Reservoir last month signed up for a "Top Gun" experience before the crash, according to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).

Paul Garrett Engler and pilot Peter Gillcrist died when a small plane crashed near the El Capitan Reservoir on October 21, according to a spokesperson for the pilot's employer.

The crash sparked a 45-acre brush fire. 

In its preliminary report, the NTSB said the website for the operator California Extreme Adventures LLC, which was doing business as "Sky Combat Ace," described itself as an "extreme aviation attraction."

"'The passenger [Paul Garrett Engler] had signed up for a 25-minute long 'Top Gun' experience, which, according to its website was a flight which included 'Advanced Acrobatics,'" the NTSB wrote in its preliminary report.

Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) radar data showed the plane reached an altitude of 4,700 feet and followed a track along the general path of the San Diego River. It then went East of the El Capitan Reservoir, towards the town of Four Corners.

"The track followed a meandering path at varying airspeeds and altitudes ranging between 4,500 and 7,100 feet in a manner consistent with aerobatic maneuvers," the NTSB wrote.

Witnesses told NTSB they saw the plane performing "aerobatic-like" maneuvers before crashing.

Sky Combat Ace operates out of Henderson, Nevada, but has a location out of Gillespie Field, which is where the plane was headed Saturday.

Megan Fazio, a spokesperson for Sky Combat Ace told NBC 7 there were no distress calls before the accident.

"We are devastated and extend our heartfelt sympathy to the families and to our SCA team members who have lost a beloved colleague and pilot," she said in a written statement.

The wreckage was in a remote area near the El Capitan Reservoir and was not accessible to ground crews.

Gillcrist, known as "Bandito" in the air, taught competitive aerobatics, emergency maneuver training, and spin training, according to the company. His mother was an aviation physiologist, his father was a Navy pilot and his wife is a pilot for Southwest Airlines.

Gillcrist will be laid to rest in Rancho Santa Fe on Saturday, according to his obituary page.

Engler, a Texas native, was a father of two, according to his obituary. He was laid to rest on Nov. 14.

Contact Us