GULF BREEZE — The 53-year-old man who died in the Aug. 27 crash of an ultralight aircraft in Santa Rosa Sound was a student pilot on his first solo flight, according to a preliminary accident report from the National Transportation Safety Board.
The identity of the pilot, which was not included in the NTSB report, could not be confirmed Friday through local or state authorities.
According to the NTSB report, witnesses said the aircraft — a locally manufactured two-seat amphibious Airtime Cygnet built two years ago — spiraled into the sound near Oriole Beach from about 400 feet above the water.
The NTSB report, released Thursday, also noted that the victim's flight instructor, who witnessed the accident, said he was aboard the aircraft as he and his student "performed about 25 touch-and-go landings in the water of Santa Rosa Sound."
"According to the instructor, the pilot was flying 'perfectly' and was ready for his first solo flight," the report states.
After the series of landings and takeoffs, the instructor "got out of the aircraft and reviewed some final items with the pilot before he took off; his flight was to consist of several left rectangular patterns and subsequent water landings and takeoffs," according to the NTSB.
The instructor told investigators the plane's takeoff and climb with the solo pilot aboard "appeared normal ... ." But as the aircraft reached about 400 feet, the report states, the instructor "noticed the left wing drop about 35 degrees followed by a quick right wing drop to about 60 degrees."
From there the plane turned left and began "spiraling steeply down." The plane started to level off immediately before it hit the water, according to the instructor.
A witness who watched the series of training flights from his boat and saw the final flight while walking along the beach, corroborated the instructor's account. He told investigators the aircraft "appeared to be flying straight and level when he saw the left and right wings drop, followed by a left turn ... ." From there, according to the witness, the aircraft made three revolutions before it hit the water.
Like the instructor, the witness told investigators the plane "briefly looked like it was leveling off before impacting the water."
In addition to the NTSB investigator, the crash probe includes a representative of Airtime Aircraft in Navarre and the Federal Aviation Administration's Flight Standards District Office in Birmingham, Alabama. FAA officials and aircraft manufacturers routinely are included in NTSB accident investigations.
The report is intended only to reveal initial data gathered in the investigation. It could be months before a final crash report is released.