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N970SP accident description

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Tail numberN970SP
Accident dateAugust 01, 2004
Aircraft typeCessna 172S
LocationWaterloo, AL
Near 34.910556 N, -88.060556 W
Additional details: None

NTSB description


On August 1, 2004, about 1621 central daylight time, a Cessna 172S, N970SP, registered to and operated by Douglas Aviation, Inc., collided into the Tennessee River in the vicinity of Waterloo, Alabama. The personal flight was operated under the provisions of Title 14 CFR Part 91 with no flight plan filed. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed. The private pilot received fatal injuries, and the airplane sustained substantial damage. The flight departed Savannah - Hardin County Airport, Savannah, Tennessee, about 1600 on August 1, 2004.

The pilot flew the airplane from its base in Olive Branch, Mississippi, to Savannah, Tennessee, then utilized the Savannah - Hardin County Airport courtesy car to drive to Pickwick Lake to meet an acquaintance at his house for lunch. The acquaintance stated he talked with the pilot "about going for a ride, and other flying stories," and the pilot told him the airplane "wanted to veer to the left." The acquaintance stated the pilot drove back to the airport sometime after 1500, and the pilot told him he would fly the airplane over his house then fly over the river and take the long way home. The acquaintance stated he was outside later and observed an airplane that "flew over and headed to the river."

Two witnesses in a boat near the Waterloo bridge, both of whom were certificated flight instructors, observed the airplane flying low. The witnesses stated, "the aircraft appeared to be slow and circling as if searching for a house or perhaps a boat." The witnesses stated they then observed the airplane "flying east to west, paralleling the shoreline ... . The [airplane] began a slow descent as if on approach to landing. ... At approximately fifty feet over the water, the [airplane] leveled off and flew level for about a mile or more. As [the airplane] neared the Waterloo bridge, [it] made a level left turn of about twenty degrees and then started a very steep pull-up. ... At approximately 250 to 300 feet, the aircraft stalled, made a half turn to the right, and plunged nose-first into the water." The witnesses reported they sped their boat toward the downed airplane to try to help, and another boater used a cellular telephone to notify the local 911 operator of the accident. The witnesses reported the airplane sank within 15 to 20 seconds.


The pilot held a private pilot certificate for airplane single-engine land and was issued a first-class medical certificate on December 2, 2003, with the restriction, "must wear corrective lenses." The pilot's logbook was not recovered for examination. On his most recent application for airman medical, the pilot reported 650 total civilian flight hours. The chief pilot at Douglas Aviation stated the pilot had scheduled an upcoming multi-engine checkride, and on the rating application form, the pilot reported 683 hours total time, which included 630 hours pilot-in-command, 80 hours night, 56 hours simulated instrument, 11 hours multi-engine, and 16.6 hours within the preceding 90 days.


The Cessna 172S was manufactured in 1999 and was powered by a Lycoming IO-360-L2A 180-horsepower engine. A review of the maintenance log books revealed an annual inspection of the airplane was completed January 16, 2004, at a tachometer time of 2195.6 hours, and a 100-hour inspection was completed May 26, 2004, at a tachometer time of 2292.0 hours. The tachometer reading observed in the wreckage was 2363.1 hours.


The wreckage was found submerged in approximately 30 feet of water; it was recovered and transported to a storage facility for examination. The engine was attached to the firewall, the firewall was crushed aft to the cabin, and the nosewheel was displaced aft and to the right. The left control yoke was attached to the control tube, and the control tube was bent and extended in an approximate full-aft position. The right control tube was bent and separated with the control yoke absent. The aileron control cables were observed in place on the control yoke assembly. The empennage was attached to the fuselage, and recovery personnel reported removing both wings from the fuselage in order to transport the wreckage.

Examination of the left wing revealed the leading edge was crushed aft to the spar, the lower end of the strut was attached to the fuselage, and the upper end of the strut was removed from the wing by recovery personnel. The flap was attached and in the retracted position. The aileron was attached, the push-pull rod was attached, and the bellcrank was in place with the direct and crossover cables attached. Cable continuity was established from the bellcrank to the area where the cables were separated by recovery personnel. The stall warning port and horn were free of obstruction.

Examination of the right wing revealed the inboard portion of the leading edge of the right wing was crushed aft to the spar. The strut was removed from the fuselage and wing by recovery personnel. The flap was attached and in the retracted position, and the actuator was in place. The aileron was attached, the push-pull rod was attached, and the bellcrank was in place with the direct and crossover cables attached. Cable continuity was established from the bellcrank to the area where the cables were cut by recovery personnel.

Examination of the empennage revealed the rudder was attached to the vertical fin, and the cables were attached to the rudder horn. The right and left sides of the elevator were attached to the horizontal stabilizer, and the elevator upper and lower cables were attached to the bellcrank. Elevator and rudder cable continuity was established to a crushed area in the forward cabin. The elevator trim tab and actuator were in place, and actuator extension was consistent with zero-degrees tab deflection.

Examination of the engine revealed the propeller was attached with one blade curled, twisted, and bent aft approximately 90 degrees about one-third span from the center. The spinner was crushed, separated, and lodged between the bent propeller blade and the top of the No. 1 cylinder. The leading edge of the curled propeller blade showed cracking and gouges on the leading edge in the area where the blade was in contact with the engine cylinder. The propeller was removed to facilitate rotation of the crankshaft. The crankshaft was rotated at the propeller flange, and continuity to the accessory drive gears and valve train was observed. Compression developed on all cylinders. Borescope examination of the cylinder walls, piston tops, and valves revealed no evidence of abnormality. The magnetos produced ignition spark on all towers when rotated by hand. The spark plugs were contaminated with mud sediment and corrosion, and the No. 2 bottom spark plug was bent. All spark plugs displayed wear consistent with the "normal" condition on the Champion AV-27 comparison chart. The oil filter and oil suction screen were free of debris. The vacuum rotated freely, and the drive was intact. The fuel servo inlet screen was free of debris, the fuel injector nozzles were free of obstruction, and the fuel flow manifold diaphragm was intact. Fuel was recovered from the fuel line between the fuel servo and fuel flow manifold, and from the fuel line between the fuel pump and the fuel servo.


An autopsy was performed on the pilot by the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences, Huntsville, Alabama, on August 2, 2004. The report stated the cause of death was "multiple blunt force injuries." Forensic toxicology was performed on specimens from the pilot by the Federal Aviation Administration, Bioaeronautical Sciences Research Laboratory, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. The report stated no cyanide was detected in the blood, no ethanol was detected in the vitreous, and no drugs were detected in the urine.


The wreckage was released to a senior claims adjuster of Phoenix Aviation Managers, Inc., Dallas, Texas, on March 21, 2005.

(c) 2009-2011 Lee C. Baker. For informational purposes only.