Death seemed to follow David Glen Riggs around until this week when it apparently caught up with him while he piloted a home-built airplane to rehearse a stunt for an air show in China.
His passenger, an 18-year-old woman student serving as a translator, was pulled from the wreckage Tuesday on Caihu Lake, outside Shenyang, the capital of Liaoning province. She died later at a local hospital.
According China’s Xinhau News Agency, Riggs’ hadn’t been recovered Thursday and chances that he survived are slim.
Nevertheless, more than two dozen rescuers in the water and in the air continued to search the lake. Friday’s scheduled performance by the U.S. flying team for the show’s opening was canceled because of the accident.
The event’s commander-in-chief told Xinhau that the single-engine Lancair plane had made three trial flights before the fourth, fatal one. Parts of the kit-plane had been transported to China and assembled at a nearby airport for this weekend’s aviation festival.
Tuesday’s accident was yet another of a few fatal ones with ties to Riggs’ and his flying endeavors.
In November, his Federal Aviation Administration pilot certificate was revoked after his partner and a passenger were killed in a crash near Boulder City on May 18, 2012.
It was the second time his civilian airmen certificates had been revoked by the FAA. The first time was effective for a year after he buzzed a crowded Santa Monica, Calif., pier in 2008 while at the controls of a Czech-made, L-39 military trainer jet.
In the November incident, he lost his license for illegally selling rides on an L-39 jet, a charge that stemmed from the crash near Boulder City of another L-39 that killed a veteran pilot and a passenger.
Authorities determined that Riggs had been flying next to the second plane before it crashed. FAA investigators found that Riggs and the pilot who was killed, Douglas Edward Gilliss, had sold several rides to people at Boulder City Municipal Airport in violation of FAA regulations.
After the Boulder City crash, the FAA took an emergency action to revoke Riggs’ commercial pilot certificate and any other FAA-issued certificates. Two weeks before the 2012 crash, Riggs had met with FAA safety inspectors in Van Nuys, Calif., and assured them he wouldn’t take passengers on flights for compensation.
Despite the assurance, FAA investigators found that Riggs did take passengers on three flights for money from the Boulder City Airport and had a fourth lined up when the crash occurred.
“Your deliberate operation as pilot in command on the three … flights when you knew such flights were contrary to the Federal Aviation Regulations was reckless so as to endanger the life or property of another,” states the FAA’s emergency revocation order.
In 2006, Riggs’ friend and former military pilot Stephen Freeman, 32, of San Diego, was killed trying to land an L-39 Albatros in Ketchikan, Alaska, that he was trying to repossess for USA Air Inc., headquartered in Quincy, Ill. The camouflage-painted plane had been registered in Las Vegas.
While investigators converged on the Ketchikan mobile home park where the L-39 crashed and burned after Freeman tried to eject, Riggs, of Los Angeles, told The Associated Press that Freeman had been working part time for USA Air. He said Freeman, a Marine veteran, had taught him how to fly L-39s and had spoken to him a few hours before the crash. “He said ‘I will see you in a couple days,’” Riggs said.
A year later, in 2007, the National Transportation Safety Board reported that the crash was probably caused by Freeman’s failure to follow instrument landing procedures as he circled to land “which resulted in the airplane striking the ocean and loss of engine power.”
According to media accounts citing witnesses of Tuesday’s fatal crash in China, Riggs was attempting a water-skimming stunt over a lake in the rain when the landing gear or another part of his Lancair plane got caught in the water and broke apart.
Jim Campbell, founder and CEO of Aero-News Network, an internationally syndicated aviation industry news service based in St. Augustine, Fla., said Riggs’ attempt to re-enact the water-skimming stunt was the last of many of his dangerous operations that have been documented over the years.
“As usual, his bravado outweighed his skills, and in China he finally met a situation he could not recover from,” Campbell told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “This is a guy who has come close to getting killed a number of times.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report. Contact reporter Keith Rogers at email@example.com or 702-383-0308.