Pilot was on first solo banner flight during fatal crash

Article Courtesy of  Sun Sentinel

By Linda Trischitta   

Published March 24, 2019

Commercial pilot Derek Damion Morgan was on his first solo flight towing a banner when he crashed into a 19-story condominium at Fort Lauderdale beach, a newly released federal report says.

Morgan, 28, of Lake Tapps, Wash., died March 1 during the plane’s crash into the eastern facade of the Berkley South Condominium.

The plane did not catch fire.

No one else was hurt, although a resident was inside a condo when the plane crashed into it and about 20 construction workers were on a second-floor pool deck.

The condominium at 3015 N. Ocean Blvd. is just south of East Oakland Park Boulevard and is being renovated. After the crash, witnesses described a strong smell of fuel at the property.

The National Transportation Safety Board issued its preliminary report Friday.

It said Morgan was scheduled to fly two hours with a 30-foot-high by 90-foot-long company banner from North Perry Airport in Pembroke Pines.

 A pilot died when a yellow plane towing a banner crashed into a Fort Lauderdale high-rise condominium and fell onto a pool deck several floors below.


While piloting the aircraft, a Piper PA-25, Morgan picked up the banner on his first pass, his company, Aerial Banners North, told a federal investigator.

Morgan flew east and made several passes near the beach in Hollywood and then flew north.

While flying over Anglin’s Fishing Pier at Commercial Boulevard, the plane was about 400 feet above the ocean when it turned south and flew toward Oakland Park Boulevard, the NTSB said.

Witnesses then reported the plane flew west or northwest over land, when Federal Aviation Administration radar showed it had descended to about 200 feet above the ground.

The plane banked sharply and the banner twisted and separated, one witness said. Another witness thought Morgan’s sharp turn was an attempt to fly over Northeast 30th Street and between two tall buildings.

The Piper crashed into the 16th and 17th stories of the condominium before falling to the pool deck.

Witnesses gave varying descriptions of how the engine appeared to be performing, calling it sputtering, operating normally or at a low throttle setting.

A condo resident affected by the crash told an investigator the engine was operating at full throttle.

An online obituary for Morgan published by Forest Lawn Funeral Home of Fort Lauderdale said he was born in Tacoma, Wash., and was the son of Amber Morgan and Armando Coto Howard.

Mogan was certified in August 2018 as a commercial pilot for single- and multi-engine planes, according to the FAA website.

The NTSB investigation will include the pilot’s performance, all pilot training records and company maintenance practices, which are standard investigation requirements.

A second report that may include a cause for the fatal flight is not expected to be released for 12 to 24 months, the NTSB said Monday.

Aerial Banners North Inc. issued a statement Monday that said, “We continue to mourn the tragic loss of Derek Morgan. We strive to surpass industry and regulatory standards with our maintenance and training programs and are eagerly awaiting the NTSB’s final report and cause of this accident.”