Two Fallon residents die when twin-propeller Piper descended rapidly

NTSB investigates cause of plane crash

The Medford Fire Department responded to the crash of a twin-propeller Piper near the airport.

The Medford Fire Department responded to the crash of a twin-propeller Piper near the airport.

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Donald Sefton


The National Transportation Safety Board is expected to release a preliminary report later this month on the initial cause of a fiery small plane crash that killed two Fallon residents after takeoff from a Medford, Ore., airport.

Peter Knudson, public affairs officer for the NTSB in Washington, D.C., told the LVN on Monday it will take about two weeks for a preliminary report to determine cause of the Dec. 5 crash that killed the pilot and plane owner Donald Sefton, 69, owner of Systems Consultants, and Valerie Serpa, 67, executive director of the Churchill Arts Council and the Oats Park Arts Center. The crash at the Airport Chevrolet lot occurred shortly after takeoff.

“Dec. 19 is our goal for the preliminary report,” said Knudson, who spent several weeks in Churchill County a decade ago after a 2008 Peterbilt hauling two side-dump trailers failed to stop and rammed into an Amtrak passenger train. “It will detail facts and circumstances, and then a more detailed report will then dig down into other areas.”

Knudson said the final report could take six months.

Valerie Serpa

One week ago, NTSB investigators took the wreckage of the twin-propeller Piper PA-31-350 Navajo Chieftain to its regional field office in Seattle. Knudson said inspectors will take information from the crash site and look at other records.

According to flight logs, Sefton’s plane left Fallon on Nov. 24 and arrived in Medford at noon. He departed the Medford airport at 4:50 p.m., but the plane crashed minutes after takeoff.

KDRV-TV in Medford reported an NTSB senior aircraft accident investigator will work closely with different experts, while other investigators in Washington will examine radar data, video footage and audio recordings to understand the cause.

Investigator Zoe Keliher from the Seattle NTSB field office confirmed the plane had been in Medford for maintenance.

“Me, a representative from the engine manufacturer and from the airplane manufacturer — those are, respectively, Lycoming Engines and Piper Aircraft — will be convening up there and doing an entire aircraft examination layout … tearing down the engines and looking at all aspects of the airplane to see if there’s any mechanical anomalies that we could detect,” she said.

Two sources provided videos to KDRV television in Medford that show Sefton’s plane descending rapidly and at a near-vertical angle. The Medford Fire Department and personnel from the Medford airport extinguished the flames. From takeoff to the accident, the plane was in the air for less than 3 minutes.
“What’s known is that Medford firefighters arrived on scene near Airport Chevrolet to find at least 20 vehicles that were fully involved,” Chief Eric Thompson told the Associated Press. “We know that the aircraft took off from the Medford airport, they had just filled up with fuel, they had 128 gallons of fuel on board and the incident occurred only a few minutes after they took off.”

KDRV also reported Keliher saying Sefton had left the plane in Medford for servicing and minor repairs to a fuel line before returning to Fallon. He and Serpa drove back to Medford on a nine-hour trip to fly back together. KDRV informed the LVN that Dec. 5 was foggy with the cloud layer at about 200 to 300 feet off the ground.

Sefton, who moved to Fallon in the 1980s, is owner of System Consultants. According to its website, “This organization primarily operates in the Business Oriented Computer Software business / industry within the Business Services sector. This organization has been operating for approximately 42 years. Systems Consultants is estimated to generate $5.3 million in annual revenues, and employs approximately 60 people at this single location.”

Steve Endacott, who is the city of Fallon’s emergency management director, said he handled military projects at Systems Consultants until he left nine years ago. He said Sefton relocated from Southern California to Fallon because of the business-friendly climate.

“He got to know Fallon, bought a ranch or farm,” Endacott said. “He was involved with the Arts Council, and he was quite generous with donations to the community. He was very generous within the Fallon community, including sponsoring two scholarships every year for Churchill County High School graduates.”

Endacott began working on part-time military software projects in 1994 until his supervisor left.
“He started military software projects such as the ground training software for a fighter that was used in Desert Storm,” said Endacott, who ran the SCI Military Special Projects division. “The Stealth Fighter that Don designed the first simulator for was the F-117A, which was operating out of Tonopah Test Range at the time. That got him started with military project and was the catalyst for his move to Fallon and his work with Strike-U aboard NAS Fallon.”

During his time with Systems Consultants, Endacott said the company also worked with Strike U, the predecessor to the Naval Aviation Warfighting Development Center at Naval Air Station Fallon. Endacott said he was also involved with the unmanned aerial vehicle command testing center.

Endacott said other projects included helping the city of Fallon archive its records and providing hunting tags to other states’ wildlife departments.

“In addition to processing the big game draws for Nevada, Utah and other states, Systems Consultants created and led multiple tactics, training and technology programs involving Unmanned Aerial Systems (drones), weapons and tactical aircraft projects,” Endacott added.

An In Memoriam was posted on the Churchill Arts Council website:
“Valerie J. Serpa was the heart of the Churchill Arts Council and Oats Park Art Center. Founding the Council in 1986 with her late husband Kirk Robertson, Valerie served as the Council’s Executive Director from 1991-2021 while working tirelessly to create a permanent home for the Council in what would become the world-class Oats Park Art Center.
“A native Nevadan born and raised in Fallon, Valerie created a world of meaningful relationships by bringing individuals from all walks of life together through the Arts. Famous for her brilliant smile, sharp wit, and incredible generosity, Valerie touched countless lives.
“The Churchill Arts Council’s Board of Directors, volunteers, and members are dedicated to continuing Valerie’s mission of championing the Arts, while honoring her legacy and vision.”
Serpa earned a degree in Art History and Cultural Anthropology from the University of Nevada, Reno, and a Master’s Degree in Visual Culture from Antioch University. Her late husband, Kirk Robertson, who died on May 1, 2017, was also involved with the arts council.
Serpa was a board member from 1987-1989 and served as the board’s chair from 1989-1991. She became the council’s first executive director in 1991. According to her biographical information, “She oversees the day-to-day operations of all Council programs and activities including booking of the Council’s performing and visual arts season, publicity and promotion, artists-in-residence, scholarship and mini-grant programs, and is responsible for the development, coordination and fundraising for the Council’s programs.”
The family said a service may be conducted in February, but plans are still being worked out.

Both Donald Sefton and Valerie Serpa were involved in the community. The LVN is working on articles on both individuals. If you have an anecdote or a story to share, contact us at or news@lahontanvalleynews. Please leave your name and a contact number.


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