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In December of 2016, a small plane piloted by longtime atheist activist Rob Sherman crashed, upside-down, in the city of Marengo, Illinois. The 63-year-old Sherman died from the impact.

Sherman had, for many years, been a media fixture in Chicago for his frequent church/state separation lawsuits. He even helped his daughter sue the state (unsuccessfully) after legislators passed a “Silent Reflection and Student Prayer Act” mandating a moment of silence in public school classrooms. At one point, his mouth got him in trouble even with liberal allies; Keith Olbermann once called him the “Worst Person in the World.” He was also a Green Party nominee for Congress and a one-time spokesperson for American Atheists.

Since his crash, we’ve learned very little about what went wrong in the flight.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recently released a report on the incident, but as the Chicago Tribune notes, it offers very little insight into the accident.

Simply put, nobody has any clue what went wrong that night.

“It is possible that the pilot became spatially disoriented and lost control of the airplane; however, given that the pilot had been flying at night and that there were no mechanical anomalies identified during the investigation, the reason for the loss of control could not be determined,” NTSB Chief Investigator Pamela Sullivan wrote.

Sherman’s sport pilot’s license did not authorize him to fly at night, when the crash occurred. He had a 90-day endorsement for night flight but that had expired more than a year before. He had 274 hours of flying experience, all in that plane.

There was no evidence of intoxication and no indication of anything wrong with the Zodiac CH601XL SLSA he was flying, even though that kind of plane had been problematic in the past. The flight-tracking equipment on his plane was damaged in the crash, so that’s no help either. There were no witnesses.

Unfortunately, that also means there’s nowhere else to find more clues.

Something caused Sherman to lose control of the plane that night. We may never find out what that was.

(Portions of this article were posted earlier)

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Hemant Mehta is the founder of, a YouTube creator, podcast co-host, and author of multiple books about atheism. He can be reached at @HemantMehta.