Federal investigators release preliminary report about fatal plane crash in Medford

MEDFORD, Ore. – The National Transportation Safety Board released a preliminary report regarding last month’s fatal plane crash in Medford.

On November 24, 2021, 69-year-old Donald Sefton flew his Piper PA-31-350 Navajo Chieftain airplane from Fallon, Nevada to Medford. The FAA said after landing, Sefton noticed the plane was leaking a large amount of fuel from the base of the right wing. Sefton left the plane in Medford to get fixed while he drove back to his home in Fallon.

About two and a half weeks later, the repair was completed. Sefton, along with 67-year-old Valorie Serpa, drove to Medford to get the plane.

On December 5, 2021, Sefton and Serpa boarded the dual-engine plane in preparation for takeoff, bound for Fallon.

Ground crews gave Sefton clearance to take off with a pre-established route out of Medford airspace. During the exchange, Sefton asked the controller to read back the procedure, and the transition out of it, phonetically. Family members indicated this was normal behavior for Sefton, who reportedly would often have people clarify names and instructions.

Before departing, the controller let Sefton know there was a cloud layer about 200 feet above ground level.

The plane departed from the runway southbound at 4:50 p.m. While in the air, Sefton asked if the controller will tell him when to turn. The controller told him he would not and to follow the departure as published. Shortly thereafter, ground controllers suddenly received a low altitude alarm from the plane, but there was no response from Sefton.

Video footage and radar evidence show the plane entering the cloud layer and descending before going back up. 16 seconds later, in a near-vertical trajectory, it slammed into a parking lot adjacent to Airport Chevrolet on Biddle Road. Sefton and Serpa did not survive. Nobody else was injured.

In a preliminary report about the crash, the NTSB said audio evidence from footage of the crash indicates the engines were running at normal operating speed.

Investigators said Sefton had about 1,500 hours of flight time logged for a PA-31-350. 280 of those hours were in “actual instrument meteorological conditions,” as the FAA put it. Logs indicate Sefton has taken off from the Medford airport before, but with different departure procedures.

The NTSB will continue to investigate. It could take up to two years for a final report.

The NTSB’s preliminary report is available here: https://data.ntsb.gov/carol-repgen/api/Aviation/ReportMain/GenerateNewestReport/104346/pdf

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