NTSB: Pilot suffered stroke while trying to land plane on private airstrip near Ocala in 2020

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A pilot who died while attempting to land an aircraft on a private airstrip in 2020 suffered a medical episode that caused her to lose control of the plane, according to a report issued by the National Transportation Safety Board.

NTSB Investigator Ralph Hicks said in his report "the pilot's stroke likely contributed to this accident." Hicks said a toxicology test conducted after Ellen Navolio's death "did not detect any sedating or impairing medications in the pilot's cavity blood or liver tissue."

Hicks believes that an acute stroke caused "an unstabilized approach and subsequent loss of airplane control during landing."

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Reason for lengthy investigation

Navolio was 78 when she was pronounced deceased by first responders on July 1, 2020, at Leeward Air Ranch, a private aircraft community located off Baseline Road in southeast Marion County.

File picture of Ellen Navolio's plane after it crashed on July 1, 2020, at Leeward Air Ranch.
File picture of Ellen Navolio's plane after it crashed on July 1, 2020, at Leeward Air Ranch.

In an email to the Ocala Star-Banner, an NTSB spokesperson said there are several reasons an investigation like this one can take anywhere from 12 to 24 months to finish.

One reason: The agency looks "at every possible factor within the three investigative areas – the pilot, the aircraft and the operating environment. Sometimes, just ruling things out can take as much or more time as ruling things in," according to the email.

The NTSB official said "many investigations involve examinations or test of particular components or electronics in the NTSB lab, which has a backlog of work due to the large quantity of items it receives and processes."

The spokesperson said the agency "handle(s) about 2,000 accidents and incidents each year," adding: "Although we strive to do timely investigations, our focus is always on being thorough and comprehensive so that the public can be confident that our determination of probable cause is accurate and complete."

File photo of first responders at Leeward Air Ranch on July 1, 2020 when Ellen Navolio's plane crashed
File photo of first responders at Leeward Air Ranch on July 1, 2020 when Ellen Navolio's plane crashed

The email also states that "fatal accidents tend to be more complex since there’s often no survivor to provide an account of what happened."

Here's what the NTSB report says

In his seven-page report, Hicks said Navolio was on a cross-country flight and was landing the Evektor Aerotechnik SPORTSTAR plane when witnesses said the final approach was shaky.

Navolio "did not attempt a go-around, and the airplane bounced after landing long down the runway."

Local law enforcement officials said Navolio flew to Williston and returned to Leeward, which is where the crash occurred. Marion County Sheriff's Office officials said Navolio lived at Leeward.

"The pilot subsequently lost airplane control and the airplane came to final rest inverted in a grassy area about 2,500 feet down and 200 feet east of the runway," according to the report.

Medical Examiner's Office report

The wreckage was examined and it "did not reveal evidence of a preaccident malfunction or anomaly," Hicks wrote in his report.

The report mentions that the plane was manufactured in 2007 and its last annual inspection was May 17, 2020. At the time of that inspection, the aircraft had 441 hours of total air frame time, according to the report.

Medical Examiner's Office in Leesburg
Medical Examiner's Office in Leesburg

A Medical Examiner's Office report listed Navolio's cause of death as multiple blunt force injuries related to the crash, and the manner of death was listed as an accident.

Navolio was the only person onboard, NTSB officials said.

Richard Zeitler: "Flying was her passion.'

One of Navolio's friends, Richard Zeitler, said Navolio had lived at Leeward for about two years. Before then, he said, she lived in The Villages.

"Flying was her passion. It was something she wanted to do, " said the Inverness man.

Zeitler, who also is a pilot, said Navolio and a group of women called "The Wing Nutz" usually flew to different places, such as Tampa, DeLand, Winter Haven or Williston, on Wednesdays to have breakfast. He said they would only fly on Wednesdays if the weather was good. If not, they would wait until the following Wednesday and pick another destination.

He said she had finished breakfast in Williston and was on her way home when the crash occurred.

File photo of Marion County Fire Rescue officials at Leeward Air Ranch when Ellen Navolio's plane crashed on July 1, 2020
File photo of Marion County Fire Rescue officials at Leeward Air Ranch when Ellen Navolio's plane crashed on July 1, 2020

"She was a good person," he said.

Zeitler said Navolio was in charge of Kentucky's insurance department before retiring.

"She traveled a lot," he said, adding Navolio was married, but never had any children.

Contact Austin L. Miller at austin.miller@starbanner.com or @almillerosb.

This article originally appeared on Ocala Star-Banner: Pilot had stroke while landing plane near Ocala, Florida, NTSB says