The tail of the Sonex that crashed last week at Wellington Aero Club.

The tail of the Sonex that crashed last week at Wellington Aero Club. (Nicolas Collier)

The pilot of a homebuilt aircraft apparently lost power and tried to return to the runway, only to crash into a pond at the Wellington Aero Club last week, the National Transportation Safety Board said in a preliminary report Tuesday.

Just before the Feb. 17 accident, witnesses heard the engine backfire and sputter, the report said

"The airplane made a steep 180-degree left turn back towards the airport and went into a nose down attitude," the report said. "The airplane began to spiral downward and collided with a pond."

Witnesses attempted to rescue the pilot and called 911, but they were too late. Leonard "Link" McGarity, 58, an experienced airline pilot and the only person in the Sonex, was killed.


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The wreckage was partially submerged in 3-foot-deep water about 200 yards from the end of the runway of the private airport community.

After inspecting the engine, safety investigators found no obvious signs of a mechanical malfunction, the report said.

The Sonex is a small plane that has a maximum weight of about 1,100 pounds and cruises at about 135 mph. McGarity had been practicing landings when the accident occurred, the Federal Aviation Administration said.