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N7929D accident description

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Tail numberN7929D
Accident dateDecember 15, 2003
Aircraft typeBeech H-35
LocationMena, AR
Near 34.720834 N, -94.386666 W
Additional details: None

NTSB description

HISTORY OF FLIGHT

On December 15, 2003, approximately 1234 central standard time, a Beech H-35 single-engine airplane, N7929D, was destroyed upon collision with terrain while on a visual approach to the Mena Intermountain Municipal Airport (M39), near Mena, Arkansas. The airline transport pilot, sole occupant of the airplane, was fatally injured. The airplane was owned and operated by Read Associates, Inc., of Owasso, Oklahoma. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and a flight plan was not filed for the 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 personal flight. The 129-nautical mile cross-country flight originated from Gundy's Airport (O38), near Owasso, Oklahoma, approximately 1130, with M39 as its intended destination.

According to data provided by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the pilot climbed to an altitude of 5,600 feet, and while in visual flight rules (VFR) conditions, requested and obtained traffic advisories from Memphis Air Traffic Control Center (ARTCC). At 1228, the pilot initiated a visual approach to M39. The last radar contact was established at 1232, and the pilot was cleared to the UNICOM frequency and was requested to squawk code 1200. At 1232, the last radar position revealed the airplane was at an altitude of 3,100 feet, descending at a ground speed of 116 knots. The position of the airplane at that time was 11 nautical miles northeast of M39.

The wife of the pilot was at M39 waiting for the airplane. The pilot's wife became concerned and reported the missing airplane to local authorities. According to the pilot's wife, he flew to M39 frequently and was familiar with the area. The wreckage of the airplane was located the following morning by a search and rescue helicopter on the north slope of Black Mountain, approximately 540 feet below the crest of the mountain. The Ground Positioning System (GPS) location of the accident site was 34 degrees 43 minutes 24 seconds North latitude, and 094 degrees 23 minutes and 19 seconds West longitude.

Recovery personnel arrived to the accident site by foot at 1500 and confirmed one fatality. No distress calls were received from the airplane prior to impact. There were no reported eyewitnesses to the accident.

A friend of the pilot, also a pilot, received a telephone voicemail message from the pilot at 1134. The pilot stated, "GPS... I don't think I'm going to make it to Mena." The friend believed the pilot's comment was made in a "normal" tone; the pilot was not implying any element of danger, but rather a concern that he may have to land somewhere else and arrange for ground transportation. The pilot uttered a couple of "oh" and "ah" statements, which the friend interpreted as reactions to the pilot experiencing turbulence. A few moments later, he heard what he believed to be three intermittent "beeps" of the stall warning in a span of about three seconds, followed by static. He added that the background noise on the phone "appeared" to be normal in regards to the sounds of the airplane and engine in-flight.

In a telephone interview with the Investigator-In-Charge (IIC), a pilot, who was flying into M39 approximately the same time as the accident, stated that the weather was overcast and solid with a low ceiling. While on a VFR approach into M39, he had to descend below 2,000 feet. Once he descended, there was fog. The pilot flew northeast in order to clear the mountains, and then flew through a valley. He stated that he experienced severe turbulence while flying through the valley. Once the pilot landed at M39, he reported that the ceiling was at 1,500 feet and foggy; however, the weather report indicated clear skies.

PERSONNEL INFORMATION

The 48-year old pilot held an airline transport pilot certificate with ratings for single-engine land, multi-engine land, and instrument airplane. An examination of the pilot's logbook revealed that he had accumulated a total of 3,241 flight hours. His most recent Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) second-class medical certificate was issued on December 3, 2002.

AIRCRAFT INFORMATION

Read Associates, Inc. of Owasso, Oklahoma, purchased the 1957-model airplane, serial number D-5168, on April 28, 2003. The airplane was configured with seats for four occupants, and equipped with shoulder harnesses for each occupant.

According to the aircraft logbook, the last annual inspection was completed on September 19, 2002. The airframe total time as of this log entry was 4,513.1 hours. The exact total time of the airframe at the time of the accident could not be retrieved due to impact damage to the Hobbs meter and tachometer.

The airplane was powered by a Teledyne Continental O-470-G-CI engine, serial number 70216-7-G, rated at 230 horsepower. According to the engine logbook, the last annual inspection was completed on September 19, 2002. The engine total time as of this log entry was 4,513.4 hours. The engine was overhauled on July 1, 1983, with a tachometer time of 5,047 hours. The engine was removed from the aircraft and preserved until August 24, 1990, when it was returned to service. The total time since overhaul was 519.2 hours.

A McCauley model 2A36C23-PFG propeller assembly (Hub serial number 881702 and blade numbers IJ070YS and IJ074YS) received an annual inspection on September 19, 2002. According to maintenance records, the hub assembly was last overhauled on December 19, 1989.

METEOROLOGICAL INFORMATION

The Automated Surface Observing Station MWT, near Mount Ida, Arkansas, 40 nautical miles east of the accident site, at 1153 reported winds from 060 degrees at 6 knots, visibility 10 statute miles, overcast skies at 1,500 feet, temperature 9 degrees Celsius, dew point minus 1 degree Celsius, and an altimeter setting of 29.86 inches of Mercury. The IIC calculated the density altitude to be approximately 1,890 feet.

At the time of the accident, M39 did not report weather, but had an automated weather observing system (AWOS lll). In April 2004, M39 will be certifying a new AWOS III PT (Model V-3PT-C) system, which will additionally include present weather, precipitation identification, and lightning detection. Dissemination of the AWOS weather observation by the National Airspace Data Interchange Network (NADIN) will be available through a display in the airport terminal, over a VHF radio, and through the use of a local telephone number. The weather observations will be taken three times an hour, 24 hours a day.

AIDS TO NAVIGATION/COMMUNICATION

The primary navigational aid for M39 is Rich Mountain VORTAC (PGO), located 21.6 nautical miles northwest of the airport. PGO is on the 108 radial to M39. There is also a non directional beacon (NDB) located at the airport.

According to the most recent published navigation charts, the minimum safe altitude (MSA) is 4,000 feet within 25 nautical miles from the PGO VORTAC. The minimum obstruction clearance altitude (MOCA) is northwest of M39 at 2,681 feet.

Due to the mountainous terrain around the Mena Airport, the airport manager at M39 stated that communication with Memphis ARTCC is normally lost approximately 3,500 feet. He also stated that the ability for approaching airplanes to maintain communication with Memphis ARTCC is greatly needed, especially since a new Instrument Landing System (ILS) is planned to be activated later in 2004.

AERODROME INFORMATION

The M39 airport features two asphalt runways (9/27 and 17/35). Runway 9/27 is 1,829 meters (6,000 feet) long, by 30 meters (100 feet) wide. Runway 17/35 is 1,524 meters (5,000 feet) long, by 23 meters (75 feet) wide. Mountains are located north and south southwest of the airport. A 1,675-foot mountain is located 13,000 feet west of runway threshold.

The airfield elevation is 1,079 feet. The airport has a traffic activity of approximately 79 movements per day. The GPS coordinates for the airport are North 34 degrees, 32 minutes, and 43 seconds; and West 094 degrees, 12 minutes, and 9 seconds.

M39 is an uncontrolled airport. Memphis ARTCC provides approach and departure services on frequency 119.25. The airport has UNICOM services on frequency 122.80.

WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION

The wreckage was examined at the site on December 17, 2003. The airplane came to rest on a measured magnetic heading of 150 degrees. The point of impact was at the 2,061 foot elevation of a mountain known as "Black Mountain." The elevation at the top of the ridgeline was reported at 2,601 feet. The energy path of the wreckage was oriented on a heading of 190 degrees, and the terrain at the accident site was slopped approximately 30 degrees. Damage signatures on the airframe were consistent with a high speed impact. Damage to the bottom of the engine and propeller assembly suggest a nose low impact of approximately 10-15 degrees. Investigation signatures on the airframe and trees were consistent with controlled flight, with wings level and gear and flaps in the retracted position.

The crater at the initial point of impact was estimated at 14-16 inches deep. All of the wreckage was located within 80 feet of the main wreckage. A severe post-impact fire consumed the cockpit and cabin of the airplane. The fire did not extend to surrounding trees despite reported high winds. No evidence of raw fuel was found at the accident site.

An inventory of the parts and components located at the accident site revealed that all control surfaces, including trim tabs, and all major components were located at the accident site in the immediate vicinity of the main wreckage. The exterior paint of the airplane (white) was found to be in excellent condition. The cable assemblies for the throttle, mixture, and propeller were located, but could not be individually identified. The heading indicator was found to be set at 120 degrees, with the bug set at 130 degrees. A large piece of windshield Plexiglas was found forward of the resting place of the wreckage. The Plexiglas was inspected for evidence of a bird strike or an in-flight fire; however, none were found. The left ruddervator was found attached to the tail section of the airplane (upside down). The cabin step was found in the retracted position, and exhibited very little fire damage. The trim setting for the ruddervators were not obtainable.

No personal baggage was found within the wreckage; however, several cans of paint and painting products were found. A relative of the pilot reported to the IIC that the paint was to be applied to another airplane located in Mena. The remains of a 7.25 inch radial saw was also found in the wreckage.

The engine came to rest in an inverted position, and exhibited fire and impact damage. Severe crushing damage was observed on the underside of the engine assembly. The fuel selector was not found at the accident site. Remains of the fuel cell were burned, and exhibited signs of heavy soot and smoke.

The propeller remained attached to the crankshaft flange. The propeller blades remained securely attached to the propeller hub assembly. There was no evidence of propeller slashes found on any of the trees along the wreckage path. The propeller spinner did not show any signs of rotational scoring. Neither propeller blade had signs of S-bending or twisting. Leading edge damage and chordwise scratching on the propeller was noted. Slight aft bending damage was observed on both propeller blades, at about the same degree of bending. There was no rotational scoring or damage found on the spinner assembly. The blade tips did not exhibit signs of gouging. The propeller spinner featured some crushing damage at the six o'clock position.

An evaluation of the terrain surrounding the accident site revealed that suitable forced landing areas would have been available to the north of the ridge.

MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION

An autopsy was performed by the Arkansas State Crime Laboratory, Medical Examiner Division, Little Rock, Arkansas, on December 18, 2003.

Toxicological tests were performed by the FAA's Civil Aeromedical Institute (CAMI) in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Tests were negative for drugs.

TESTS AND RESEARCH

Detailed examination of the engine was accomplished under the supervision of the FAA and a representative from Teledyne Continental Motors at Dawson Aircraft, Inc., Clinton, Arkansas, on February 24, 2004. The propeller was rotated and movement was noted on all rocker arms, except in the number one cylinder. The exhaust valve was stuck in the open position on this cylinder; the number one cylinder had been severely burned and the fins had started to melt. The cylinders were removed; however, the case halves could not be separated due to the aft through-bolts being stuck fast in their holes from heat. Aside from severe fire and impact damage, no anomalies were discovered that would have precluded normal engine operation prior to impact.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

The wreckage was released to the owner's representative upon completion of the investigation.

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