The pilot of a plane with possible criminal ties displayed concerning behavior just hours before he crashed in the mountains near Silverton in September 2015, killing four people, according to a new federal investigation.
According to a National Transportation Safety Board report, 71-year-old pilot Harold Raggio of Newberry Springs, California, departed from Big Bear, California, around 8 a.m. and stopped in Barstow, California, to pick up three passengers.
Other passengers included Steven Dale Wilkinson of Newberry Springs; Rosalinda Leslie of Hesperia, California; and Michael Lyle Riley of Barstow, who also happened to be a pilot.
Raggio’s daughter told investigators the group was then headed to Amarillo, Texas, to have dinner, and planned to return the same day. However, after refueling in Flagstaff, Arizona, Raggio veered nearly 200 miles off course, crashing around 2 p.m., about 9 miles west of Silverton, at an elevation of about 11,500 feet. The NTSB report said Raggio and Riley were certified to fly a single-engine airplane – not the twin engine Cessna 310H they were piloting.
Authorities believe Raggio was flying by sight instead of GPS.
According to the investigation, when Raggio stopped to refuel in Flagstaff around 12 p.m., he acted in a manner that “concerned people (airport staff) about his flying.”
An airport employee told investigators Raggio could not “keep a fluent conversation” without having an “issue with talking.”
While speaking with the radio traffic controller before landing, Raggio was unaware which direction he was coming from and was disjointed in conversation, according to transcripts.
During the airplane’s taxi, Raggio almost hit another aircraft as well as parked golf carts and came close enough to the self-serve fuel pump that one of the plane’s propellers knocked over a ladder, employees said.
On the ground, Raggio requested weather information for Amarillo but used the wrong airport identifier code. He instead used the code for the airport in Winifred, Montana.
Before takeoff, Raggio went out onto the runway without permission, causing a commercial airline to abort its landing. An airport employee said radio transmissions with Raggio were “screwy” and “lacked organization and context, and was not current.”
Raggio eventually took off, with employees noting it took him a long time before pulling up and heading east. The plane was last tracked following Interstate 40 before it turned north near the town of Grants, New Mexico.
The NTSB report said Raggio suffered from a number of medical issues, including depressive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, panic disorder, chronic neck pain, paraplegia, Type 2 diabetes and emphysema among other issues.
He was on at least 10 active medications, according to Veterans Administration records. Antidepressants were found in Raggio’s system during his autopsy.
His passenger, Riley, who was also a pilot, tested positive for methamphetamine. He also tested above the federal aviation regulation level for ethanol, an indicator for alcohol. (Individuals can test positive for methamphetamine if they are using certain over-the-counter medications or using illegal drugs.)
According to the Silverton Standard & the Miner, authorities were investigating for possible links to a methamphetamine bust involving passenger Wilkinson, who was Raggio’s son-in-law.
The Standard reported that Wilkinson had been arrested just four days before the crash by the San Bernardino Sheriff’s Department in connection with the sale of methamphetamine, being in possession of the drug while armed and being a felon in possession of a firearm.
Ron Hamm Jr., operator of Daggett Aviation at the Barstow-Daggett Airport, told the Standard it was rumored Wilkinson, “a shady character with a lot of bad history,” was aboard the flight to either make a “big deal” or “get dropped off and not come back.”
Authorities contacted Tuesday did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
An NTSB spokesman said Tuesday a “probable cause” report will be released in the next couple months, which will lay out the agency’s conclusion about why the crash occurred.
Weather was noted as being partly cloudy that day, with the NTSB report showing wind gusts between 8 and 39 miles per hour at elevations of 10,000 to 12,000 feet.