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N542SP accident description

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Tail numberN542SP
Accident dateDecember 15, 2005
Aircraft typeCessna 172S
LocationHana, HI
Near 20.776944 N, -156.0675 W
Additional details: None

NTSB description

HISTORY OF FLIGHT

On December 15, 2005, at 1452 Hawaiian standard time, a Cessna 172S, N542SP, collided with mountainous terrain approximately 3 nautical miles southwest of Hana Airport, Hana, Hawaii. Maui Aviators, LLC, who was also the registered owner of the airplane, was operating it under the provisions of 14 CFR Part 91. The commercial pilot, the sole occupant, sustained fatal injuries; the airplane was destroyed. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed and no flight plan had been filed. The pilot originally departed from Kahului Airport, Kahului, Hawaii, at 1230, and was destined for Hana. He planned to return to Kahului later that afternoon.

The certified flight instructor (CFI) was interviewed by telephone regarding the accident. He reported that the pilot received a check-out on November 26 in the accident airplane. The pilot arrived 2 hours early for the check-out flight. The purpose of the flight was to familiarize the pilot with the local area, and to practice maneuvers and landings. During the flight, the CFI and pilot flew southeast toward Hana and practiced stalls, steep turns, and slow flight. They did not fly to Hana but returned to Kahului where they did seven landings. The total flight time logged was 1.3 hours and the total ground time was 1 hour. Approximately 30 minutes of the ground time was consumed by paperwork and the other 30 minutes was for flight instruction. The accident pilot expressed an interest in a flight to Hana, and the CFI briefed him on procedures for flight around the island, which included information on Hana airport. The CFI reported that pilots were free to fly anywhere over the island and that normally pilots would receive additional instruction if they were transitioning to other islands. The pilot told the CFI that he was on vacation by himself for a few weeks. He received his primary training in Oahu in 1969, and reported flying cargo there at one time. The CFI felt that the pilot was competent, although he described the pilot's communications skills as rough.

The CFI stated that during the initial check-out, the pilot talked nonstop. At the end of the check-out flight, the pilot continued to talk to the CFI. As the CFI was attempting to close the flight school, the pilot went out to his car and asked the CFI to take photos of him and the airplane. The pilot went back to the car and asked the CFI if he wanted beer. The CFI said, "No," but the pilot came in with a nylon bag and gave it to him. The CFI attempted to return the nylon bag but the pilot said that he could keep it.

On December 15, the pilot arrived early for his flight. He had the airplane scheduled from 1200 until 1700, as well as a flight scheduled for the same time the following day (December 16). The CFI listened to the pilot get his clearance; the pilot requested a southwest departure to go around the island from the northwest to the northeast tip. The CFI monitored the tower frequency and noted that following his departure about 1130, the accident pilot incorrectly made a left turn, and after some confusion was back on course. During this departure the Kahului tower did not receive the airplane's transponder. The pilot conducted a closed pattern flight, and on the downwind leg of the traffic pattern, Kahului tower personnel verified that the transponder was functioning properly. The pilot then departed normally.

On the day of the accident, the pilot gave the CFI a pair of leather gloves. Almost immediately upon arrival, the pilot asked if he could leave his backpack at the flight school. The CFI told him to bring it with him in the airplane (either in the baggage area or the backseat) but the pilot reported that he did not have room. The CFI also advised the pilot that the school would be closed by the time he returned from his flight so that he should bring the backpack with him. After a long discussion, the CFI relented and advised the pilot that he could leave his backpack at the school and pick it up the following day.

Following the accident, local police detectives retrieved the backpack. Looking through it they discovered the pilot's rental car keys, wallet, a camera, binoculars, 5 to 6 small bottles of liquor, various bottles of pills, and other personal effects. The CFI reported that the pilot seemed exactly like he was the first day, and he did not smell any alcohol on the pilot.

WITNESS INFORMATION

About 1550, a local helicopter pilot spraying miconia chemical on the fauna, noted smoke about 100 yards from where he had been working. He flew to the site, and saw a white fuselage, which he believed to be a Cessna 172. He searched for survivors but the impact appeared nonsurvivable. The helicopter pilot then notified his ground crew who radioed the local fire department for air support assistance. Due to a low fuel state, the helicopter pilot departed the area.

According to the helicopter pilot, based on the impact site, the airplane appeared to be flying in a west-southwest direction, prior to impacting the mountain at an elevation of about 2,200 feet. The engine and cockpit area were buried approximately 6 feet into the ground.

There were two volcanic cinder cones that culminated at the top of a volcano that rose to an elevation of 13,396 feet. The helicopter pilot stated that the direction of flight was not consistent with a normal approach or departure from the Hana airport and that the pilot's direction of flight would have ensured the airplane's eventual impact with rising terrain.

The National Transportation Safety Board investigator interviewed a car rental company employee based at the Hana airport that was working at the time of the accident. The employee did not recall seeing the airplane at Hana airport the day of the accident.

RADAR INFORMATION

Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and military radar data were reviewed to determine if the flight track of the airplane had been captured just prior to accident. No flight track consistent with the location of the accident site was identified.

PILOT INFORMATION

The pilot held a commercial pilot certificate, and was authorized to fly single and multiengine airplanes. The pilot also held an airplane instrument rating. He was issued a third-class medical certificate on February 15, 2005, with no limitations. On his last FAA medical application, he indicated about 570 hours total flight time with 0 hours flown in the last 6 months. The pilot did not list any allergies or indicate the use of any medications on his medical application form.

No personal flight logbooks were located for the pilot. On the pilot's rental disclosure and agreement for Maui Aviators dated November 26, 2005, he reported 541 total hours, with 97 hours in the last 90 days and 35 hours in a Cessna 172. He reported that his last flight review was conducted on April 21, 2005.

The Safety Board investigator interviewed the pilot's brother via telephone. He reported that his brother began flying in the 1970's, and had career aspirations to fly as a commercial airline pilot. After some time, he quit flying and then started back up again about 3 years ago. Although his brother always desired a flying career, his commercial aspirations did not come about so all of his flying was done privately.

According to the brother, the pilot was a private person who lived alone and worked in sales. They were not close. The pilot's brother did not know if his brother's business ventures were successful. The last person to speak to the pilot was their mother about 1 week prior to the accident. The pilot seemed normal during the conversation and nothing unusual was noted.

Additionally, the pilot's brother indicated that they lived in Hawaii for about 7 years while they were growing up. The pilot did his initial flight training there, and it was common for him to vacation in the area. The pilot traveled frequently, and took allergy medication for his allergies.

AIRCRAFT INFORMATION

The airplane was a 2000 Cessna 172S equipped with a Lycoming IO-360-L2A engine. The last inspection on the airplane was a 100-hour inspection completed on November 15, 2005, at a total tachometer time of 2,255 hours, and approximately 46 hours had accrued on the airplane since the inspection. The annual inspection was completed on April 13, 2005. There were no outstanding maintenance discrepancies on the airplane prior to the accident flight.

The airplane was last fueled on December 14, 2005, at 1613. The airplane's fuel tanks were topped off with 9.24 total gallons of fuel. The accident flight was the first flight since the last refueling.

METEOROLOGICAL INFORMATION

A helicopter pilot flying in the area of the accident site reported clear skies and little or no wind, and no turbulence. Prior to seeing the fire, the pilot did not see or hear the airplane.

Kahului Airport was the closest official aviation weather observation station and an aviation routine weather report (METAR) issued at 1554 recorded the following conditions: wind from 330 at 7 knots; visibility 10 statute miles; sky condition few clouds at 4,700 feet; temperature 81 degrees Fahrenheit (F); dew point 63 degrees F; and altimeter 30.03 inches of Mercury.

WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION

The airplane vertically impacted steep terrain at an elevation of about 2,300 feet mean sea level on an inactive volcano. The terrain was thickly forested and the earth was soft and muddy. According to emergency response personnel, the engine and cockpit structure were buried 6 feet into the earth. Both wings were attached to the fuselage structure with the right wing positioned perpendicular to mountain and upslope, and the left wing in the same position but pointing downslope. The remaining airplane structure was accordioned against the buried portion, which included the fuselage, the wings, and the empennage sections.

First responders stated that the buried nose of the airplane was on a general heading of west-southwest.

MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION

The Maui County Medical Examiner, Maui, Hawaii, completed the autopsy on the pilot. The FAA's Forensic Toxicology completed toxicological testing on specimens of the pilot. The results were positive for the following:

31 (mg/dL), mg/hg) ETHANOL detected in Muscle 157 (mg/dL, mg/hg) ETHANOL detected in Brain 7 (mg/dL, mg/hg) N-PROPANOL detected in Brain

It was noted that the ethanol found might have been the result of postmortem ethanol production.

CHLORPHENIRAMINE detected in Muscle CHLORPHENIRAMINE detected in Liver

TESTS AND RESEARCH

The wreckage was stored in a T-hangar at the Kahalui Airport prior to the arrival of a Safety Board investigator. The FAA accident coordinator, and representatives from Cessna Aircraft Company and Textron Lycoming, both parties to the investigation, were present during the examination. The wreckage consisted of the fuselage, wings, and empennage, all of which were attached to each other via structural members or control cables. The engine was separated from the airframe. The instrument panel, with one control yoke column still attached, was also displaced from the airplane.

The wings sustained symmetrical accordion crushing damage from the leading edge aft past the wing spar. Both wing roots sustained fire damage with some of the structure having been burned away. Both wings were fractured at the lift strut/flap-to-aileron junction area. The left wing was completely fractured and the control cables held the outboard wing section to the inboard section. The right wing was fractured but the outboard section remained attached to the inboard section via skin panels and damaged spar material. The left lift strut remained attached to the left wing, but the structure where the bottom end of the left strut attaches was torn free from the fuselage. The right lift strut remained attached to the right wing and fuselage. The left and right flap remained attached to their respective wings and the flap actuator was in the retracted position. The control cable attaching the right flap to the left flap separated at the left wing attach point, and displayed a broom-straw appearance. The left aileron remained attached to the wing. The right aileron remained attached to the right wing with the exception of the outboard half (outboard of the aileron control rod). It was located at the accident site and recovered with the wreckage. The airplane was equipped with a wing-leveler servo in the right wing. It was intact and the cables remained in their respective pulley grooves. Flight control continuity from the ailerons to the cockpit area was confirmed.

The cockpit and cabin area sustained significant impact and fire damage. The upper cockpit/cabin structure had burned away. The floor of the cabin was accordion-crushed aft, displaying three large zigzag folds aft of the firewall and leaving the rudder pedals inaccessible. The empennage remained attached to the fuselage, but sustained significant impact deformation damage. The elevator and rudder remained intact and attached to the horizontal and vertical stabilizers, respectively. The trim tab actuator measured 1.3 inches. The trim tab was deformed but in the up position. Flight control continuity was confirmed from the elevator, elevator trim tab, and rudder, to the cockpit cabin floor.

Both of the front seats were separated from their tracks. The left seat was deformed down and to the left when viewed from the seated position. The right seat was not deformed. The outboard seat track for the right seat separated from the cabin floor, but remained with the seat. Both left and right doors were separated from the fuselage, but were recovered from the accident site. Both the left and right door latches were in the closed position.

The left flight control yoke was not recovered (the forward end of the control rod remained inside the instrument panel and attached to the right control yoke via the control chain and cables). The right control yoke remained with the instrument panel. The instrument panel sustained impact damage and as previously mentioned, had separated from the fuselage. The Hobbs meter displayed a reading of 2,897.8 hours. The tachometer gauge face was present, but the hour meter for the tachometer was missing.

The engine was covered in thick mud back to its accessory section making none of the components discernable. The mud was removed from the engine. The propeller remained attached to the engine crankshaft with one blade bent aft 90 degrees and displaying a slight twist toward a lower pitch angle. The other blade was bent aft about 15 degrees 12 inches from the blade root. The propeller was removed, as were the top spark plugs and rocker arm covers. The spark plug electrodes were consistent with normal operation when compared with a Champion Check-A-Plug chart.

The fuel control unit was missing from the accessory section and not recovered. The number 2 cylinder's intake valve pushrod separated from the engine and was located in the wreckage along with its fuel injection line. The number 2 cylinder's exhaust valve pushrod was bent. The engine was equipped with two vacuum pumps, two magnetos, and an engine driven fuel pump. The left magneto was destroyed by impact damage, but the right remained intact. Its drive was manually rotated and spark was obtained on all distributor cap towers. The engine driven fuel pump retained a small amount of residual fuel (tablespoon). Disassembly of the pump revealed no anomalies with its internal components. Disassembly of the fuel manifold also revealed no anomalies or debris. The two vacuum pumps were disassembled and examined. The number 1 (top) pump remained intact with no internal damage or damage to its drive shaft noted. The number 2 (bottom) pump sustained damage to its internal rotor and vanes. Its drive shaft remained intact.

The engine crankshaft was rotated by removing the number 1 vacuum pump (top pump) and utilizing a drive wrench in the vacuum pump's place. Continuity from the accessory section to the propeller flange was confirmed, along with valve train continuity. Thumb compression was

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