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Exclusive Video: Amateur pilot had flown before

The Central Point man who spent a night out in the wilderness near Prospect after crashing an experimental plane had no pilot's license, according to new information from the National Transportation Safety Board.

Steven Paul Dawson Jr., 34, told Jackson County sheriff's deputies and first-responders that he bought the kit-built Whittman Tailwind plane the week before he crashed it and had only finished building it a day before the Jan. 28 takeoff, according to a preliminary accident report issued by the NTSB.

The investigation is pending on how Dawson’s plane took off, according to Oregon Dept. of Aviation spokesman Matt Moss.

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The Prospect airport is managed by the state and classified by the FAA as an “uncontrolled airport,” Moss said, meaning there’s no air traffic controllers. It’s up to pilots to follow FAA-recommended traffic patterns.

“There’s nobody that checks a pilot’s license,” Moss said.

The preliminary investigation shows no formal training for Dawson, according to NTSB spokesman Peter Knudson, which he described as highly unusual.

“We do see the occasional accident in which it’s a student pilot,” Knudson said, adding, “They at least have some sort of formal training.”

Josephine County Airport Director Larry Graves, however, described similar flights in Grants Pass and Illinois Valley airports.

Dawson had flown two other aircraft in poor condition and without formal training, causing at least one near-miss crash that led Graves to chain up Dawson’s orange jury-rigged experimental plane.

Graves described incidents that started in May involving homemade aircraft — first a blue plane looking “pretty rough” and later the orange one that was held together with duct tape.

Based on the plane’s FAA registration number, Graves said he found that plane was registered to an air museum out of San Martin, California, then called them. The museum told Graves that Dawson paid cash for a plane no longer being exhibited and had Dawson sign a waiver saying he wouldn’t fly it.

Typically, pilots pay to store a plane at the hanger, but Dawson avoided the office and more-or-less “squatted” at the airport and waited for the office to close before he departed.

By September, Graves resorted to locking a chain around the orange aircraft Dawson left at the Grants Pass airport, after Dawson reportedly did thousands of dollars worth of damage to runway equipment following a rough landing that took five attempts on Sept. 17, 2018.

Salvador Corona of Grants Pass, a pilot who keeps his Cessna at the Grants Pass airport, said he witnessed Dawson taxiing in the open-cockpit orange plane.

At one point there were about 20 first-responders braced for a crash at the Grants Pass airport, according to Corona and Graves. There were two Josephine County Sheriff’s deputies, one ambulance and two fire engines.

On the fourth landing attempt, Dawson reportedly knocked down runway lights valued at about $2,000.

“He said he learned to fly via the YouTube,” Corona said.

The plane came to a hard landing on the fifth attempt after the aircraft ran out of gas and ultimately damaged the plane’s landing gear, Graves said.

Graves said investigators have reached out to him since the Prospect crash, but it’s unclear what penalties Dawson faces for flying without a license. FAA spokesman Allen Kenitzer said he couldn’t comment on penalties for flying a plane unlicensed while the investigation is pending.

Graves said the FAA can only enforce regulations by taking a license away, but Dawson never had one.

Dawson separately faces a charge of aggravated theft in Jackson County Circuit Court, accusing him of taking a 45-foot dirt sifter from Schnitzer Steel in November 2017, according to court documents. Dawson has a trial date in that case set for May.

Reach reporter Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or nmorgan@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @MTCrimeBeat.

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