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N46MH accident description

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Tail numberN46MH
Accident dateAugust 29, 2001
Aircraft typeHarter Kitfox Classic
LocationSedona, AZ
Additional details: None

NTSB description

On August 29, 2001, at 1215 hours mountain standard time, an experimental Harter Kitfox Classic, N46MH, impacted terrain while attempting to reverse course in Fox Canyon near Sedona, Arizona. The private certificated pilot, the sole occupant, was fatally injured and the amateur built aircraft was destroyed. The local area personal flight, operated by the owner under 14 CFR Part 91, departed from Sedona at 1130. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed and no flight plan was filed.

A second pilot in another Kitfox airplane flew in loose formation with the accident aircraft for the first time on the day of the accident. The second pilot would later witness the accident. He reported that the trip of the pilot involved in the accident originated on the east coast, and that he had flown to a Kitfox enthusiast's meeting at the Kitfox factory in Caldwell, Idaho. From there he flew to Cameron Park, Placerville, and Death Valley, all in California, before continuing to Chandler, Arizona, where he spent the night of August 28th at the second pilot's home.

The second pilot said that the accident pilot's Kitfox was a Classic IV 1200 model (1,200-pound gross weight) and, whereas most Kitfox's have a Rotax 912 engine, this one had a heavier Subaru EA-81 engine. He said that the Kitfox involved in the accident had a "full panel" of instruments and radios and was equipped for instrument flight. The pilot told him that, with the heavier engine and instrumentation, he was "over gross" with himself, baggage, and fuel onboard. The pilot built his Kitfox in 1999, and said he had flown it more than 1,200 hours. His total flying time was about 1,500 hours.

On the day of the accident, the two aircraft departed Chandler in loose formation about 0630. The second pilot flew at all times about 1/2 mile behind and 800 feet above the accident airplane. The second pilot said it was apparent that his Rotax-powered airplane climbed and flew faster than the accident pilot's Subaru-powered plane. He recalled the accident Kitfox cruising about 90 knots indicated airspeed at 5,000 feet msl. The pilot was carrying camping gear (sleeping bag, tent, a small stove) and his baggage. They flew to Sun Valley Airpark and, after landing there, flew via the Prescott Valley and Cottonwood Canyon to Sedona, where they landed and had breakfast. After landing at Sedona, the pilot's plane was leaking some engine coolant. The pilot removed the cowling and found the coolant was coming from the vent on the coolant expansion tank and was not further concerned. He reinstalled the cowling.

They next intended to fly to Marble Canyon at the northeast end of the Grand Canyon where they would camp overnight. Before taking off they discussed the route they would fly. The pilot wanted to cross the Grand Canyon, however, when the second pilot pointed out that the Special Air Traffic Rules Area "Dragon Transition" over the Grand Canyon would require them to climb above 11,500 feet, the pilot had reservations about flying at that altitude given the heavy loading of his airplane. They decided, instead, to fly a route east of the Grand Canyon airspace at 10,000 feet. After fueling their planes to capacity, they departed Sedona about 1130.

After takeoff they climbed out to the north flying up a wide canyon that parallels Oak Creek Canyon on the west side. The pilot was flying below and in front of the second pilot at an altitude that placed him below the canyon walls. The second pilot radioed to him "you should climb" and the pilot radioed back that he was taking pictures. The second pilot asked how his engine temperature was and he radioed back that it was "OK, plenty of margin." This was about 3 minutes before the accident.

About 1 mile further, it appeared that the pilot started climbing. He was keeping even with gently upsloping terrain ahead and was in no danger at that point. The pilot then made a right turn into a narrow canyon that would take him over a ridge into Oak Creek Canyon. Flying behind him, it took the second pilot a moment to reach the entrance to the canyon and, when he did, he was immediately uncomfortable. Even from his higher altitude the second pilot was barely level with the ridgeline ahead. He radioed to the pilot that he should "do a 180 . . . there is room to your right." At this point he had sufficient space to his right to reverse course. The pilot radioed back words to the effect that he thought he could make it and would proceed ahead. The second pilot radioed that he was turning immediately and that the pilot had plenty of spacing and was clear of terrain. When he started his climbing left turn he last saw the accident airplane below and in front of him, hugging the left canyon wall. It appeared the other pilot was setting up to make a right turn out of the canyon. He appeared to be in a climbing attitude.

When the second pilot completed his 360-degree turn, he next saw the accident airplane in a 45-degree right bank as it entered a spin to the right about 300 feet agl. The spin continued for 2 1/2 turns and the airplane impacted terrain below and a fire erupted. It appeared that the spin slowed and a partial recovery was made just before the impact. In the immediate area where the accident occurred the canyon was closing; there was rising terrain ahead and insufficient canyon width to turn around. The second pilot said there was no transmission (on the radio) of any mechanical problem and, as he watched the aircraft spin, it appeared that the airplane was structurally intact.

The density altitude at the accident site was approximately 8,000 feet.

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