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N109GF accident description

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Tail numberN109GF
Accident dateFebruary 26, 1998
Aircraft typeFreije LANCAIR IV
LocationGarwood, ID
Additional details: None

NTSB description


On February 26, 1998, approximately 0750 Pacific standard time, an experimental Freije Lancair IV, N109GF, impacted a personal residence about three miles southeast of Garwood, Idaho. The commercial pilot and his passenger, who possessed a private pilot's license, received fatal injuries. The aircraft, which was built, owned, and operated by the commercial pilot, was destroyed. The 14 CFR Part 91 personal pleasure flight, which departed Coeur D' Alene Air Terminal about five minutes prior to the crash, had been on an IFR departure in instrument meteorological conditions (IMC). His IFR flight plan was from Coeur D'Alene to Billings, Montana. There was no report of an ELT transmission.

According to friends and family members, the pilot was planning to fly to Billings on the morning of the accident, in order to attend a pilots' convention. He contacted Seattle Automated Flight Service Station at 2142 Pacific standard time the night before the flight, and received a briefing for an intended IFR flight to Billings. During that briefing, he indicated he would be departing about 0600 the next day. At 0608 the next morning, he again contacted Seattle Flight Service and asked for a briefing for an IFR flight to Billings, with a stop en route at Coeur D'Alene, Idaho. After receiving the briefing, the pilot filed an IFR flight plan from Felts Field, Spokane, Washington, to Coeur D'Alene, and a second IFR flight plan from Coeur D'Alene to Billings. At that time, he estimated he would be departing Coeur D'Alene about 0730. The time he departed Felts Field and flew VFR to Coeur D'Alene was not determined, but he reportedly arrived in Coeur D'Alene around 0715. After landing, he added 56.05 gallons of 100LL aviation fuel to the aircraft fuel system.

At 0744, while still on the ground at Coeur D'Alene, the pilot contacted Spokane Approach and advised them that he was ready to depart Coeur D'Alene "...IFR to Billings." Spokane Approach then cleared the pilot to Billings Airport "as filed" and instructed him to maintain 11,000 feet after departure, to contact Departure on frequency 132.1, and to squawk code 3511. The pilot correctly read back the clearance, and then Approach asked him how soon he would be ready and what runway he would be using. The pilot responded that he was "...ready to go now" and that he would be using runway 01. Soon thereafter the aircraft was seen taking off on runway 01 and climbing into the overcast. The next apparent transmission from the pilot was two minutes and 40 seconds later, but its content was unintelligible. Approach responded to the transmission by advising the pilot that the transmission was "...breaking up and hard to read." The pilot of the accident aircraft immediately responded with his call sign, and was advised by approach that the transmission was a little better and to verify his altitude. His response to that request was to transmit "I'm not sure, we're in a turn right now, and uh." The controller then advised the pilot that approach had radar contact with the aircraft "... three north of Coeur D'Alene Airport...," and to maintain one one thousand. About six seconds after the controller's transmission, there was another unintelligible transmission from an aircraft that could not be positively identified. There was no further radio contact with the accident aircraft, and coded radar contact was lost approximately 45 seconds after it had first been established.

Approximately the same time as radio and radar contact with the aircraft was lost, individuals in the vicinity of Alpine Lake, located about three and one-half miles north-northeast of Coeur D'Alene Airport, became aware of an aircraft maneuvering in the low clouds overhead. Of the seven local residents interviewed, three were outside their homes at the time the aircraft was first heard in the area. Two of these witnesses estimated they heard the aircraft maneuvering around the area for about five minutes before the crash, and the other felt that he had been aware of the aircraft for about three minutes. All three said that the aircraft's engine seemed to be running smoothly, without any missing or sputtering, as the aircraft continued to fly around the area. One thought the engine may have sputtered during the last two to three seconds prior to impact, but the other two said that it ran strong and smooth until it hit the house. Four other individuals, all of whom were inside homes near the point of impact, and who said they heard the aircraft less than five seconds before it hit, reported that the engine was running smoothly, but at a very high power setting. Two of the outdoor witnesses said that the pilot seemed to be making occasional changes in the power setting during the period they listened to him maneuver, but the other was of the opinion that the tonal changes he heard were caused by the normal effect created when the aircraft flew in different directions. All three outside witnesses said they saw the aircraft come out of the clouds in a steep angle of descent. Two said that the aircraft was near 90 degrees of bank, and the third said that visibility through the fog and heavy snow made it impossible to distinguish the wings from the fuselage or to tell what the aircraft's attitude might have been. All three of these witnesses said that the aircraft impacted the house near the northwest shore of Alpine Lake within two to three seconds after it came out of the clouds.

Individuals in the nearby houses reported hearing or feeling the impact, and all said there was no immediate explosion. According to local authorities, the aircraft severed a natural gas line as it passed through the structure of the house, and as a result, about ten to fifteen seconds after the impact, all but a portion of one wall of the house was destroyed by a powerful explosion. The aircraft wreckage and the remains of the house continued to burn for approximately three hours after the impact.


During the briefing the pilot received on the morning of the flight, he was advised that in the area through which he planned to fly, there were Airmets for IFR conditions, icing, and mountain obscuration. The briefer advised him that the icing Airmet called for "... occasional moderate rime or mixed, from the surface on up through one six thousand..." He was also advised that at the time of the briefing, the automated weather from Coeur D'Alene indicated a calm wind, a temperature/dewpoint spread of one degree, and a 900 foot broken ceiling. In addition, the briefer told the pilot that, although the Coeur D'Alene forecast was for 2,000 overcast and six miles visibility, temporary conditions could drop to four miles visibility, with light snow and mist/fog and an 800 foot ceiling. Near the end of the briefing the pilot questioned the briefer about whether it would be possible to get to Coeur D'Alene VFR. The briefer responded that "... it doesn't appear so..." because the ceiling at Coeur D'Alene was still at 900, and the visibility had dropped to five miles. He also advised the pilot that the ceiling at Spokane at that time was down to 600 feet.

The Coeur D'Alene automated surface observation (METAR) taken at 0714, which was approximately the same time as the pilot's VFR arrival, indicated calm winds, a visibility of four miles, a 600 foot overcast, and a two degree temperature/dewpoint spread. The METAR taken at 0734, about ten minutes prior to the aircraft's departure, reported calm winds, one and one-half mile visibility, a 600 foot overcast, and a one degree temperature dewpoint spread. The METAR data for 0754, about 10 minutes after the departure, indicated calm winds, one and one-quarter mile visibility, 600 feet overcast, and a one degree spread between temperature and dewpoint. The investigation also confirmed that the Automated Weather Observation System (AWOS) was operating during the time the pilot was at the Coeur D'Alene Airport, and according to the airport manager, snow was falling at the time the aircraft departed.

All of the witnesses whom had been in the vicinity of Alpine Lake during the time the aircraft was maneuvering in the area reported that it had been snowing steadily. Although one witness reported that until just after the accident, the flakes were medium size and not particularly wet/heavy, all the others said that it was snowing very heavily and that the flakes were large, heavy, and wet. One witness, who said the flakes were about the size of quarters, said that it was so heavy he was having trouble shoveling it. A number of the witness said that at times the snow turned to rain and then back to snow again. Every witness reported that the clouds were very low and that it was foggy or misty in the area. Visibility estimates were between 800 feet and one-half mile.


Of the two pilots on board, only the owner, who held a commercial pilot certificate, was instrument rated. His pilot log book showed that he had accumulated approximately 5,045 total hours, of which 188.4 was actual instrument time and 62.4 was simulated instrument time. Of his total instrument time, 1.9 hours had been logged in the last year, and one hour of that time had been logged in the last six months. There were no instrument approaches logged in association with any of the 1.9 hours. His records also indicated that he had never flown any actual or simulated instrument hours in the accident aircraft or any other aircraft of the same model. Although the pilot held a second class medical, its limitations required him to wear lenses for distant vision, possess glasses for near vision, and to use hearing amplification.


According to witnesses, the aircraft was heading in a northeasterly direction when it came out of the clouds near the northwest end of Alpine Lake. The aircraft then impacted a single family residence at 15910 North Ridgeway Drive, Hayden Idaho. Because of the explosion and intense fire that followed, only the engine, system components made of steel, and pieces of the structure that were blown clear of the house were able to be found. The few pieces of structure that were recovered were from the left and right flaps and the top outboard portion of the right wing. The remainder of the composite structure was either consumed by the fire or became unidentifiable.

The engine and remaining components were subjected to inspection after being removed from the basement of the house and relocated to a hangar at Deer Park Airport, Deer Park, Washington. The gear and flap actuating mechanisms were recovered, but due to damage to the linkage and hydraulic actuators, their positions could not be positively determined.

The engine interior showed no signs of friction-generated overheat, distress to metal parts, lack of lubrication or contamination. No contamination was found in the fuel pump or fuel lines, and the fuel servo finger screen was clean. The spark plugs showed no evidence of abnormal operating temperatures, build up of lead deposits, or accumulation of contaminants. Although mechanical continuity could not be positively established due to impact and fire damage, there was no evidence of abnormal wear to internal moving parts or failure of any component. The magnetos and all other accessories had either melted or been torn from the engine by the impact. All three blades of the wood and composite propeller had been sheared from their hub assemblies and consumed by the fire.

The dry vacuum pump was recovered, disassembled, and inspected. Neither the rotor, nor the vanes, each of which was removed from the rotor, showed any signs of abnormal wear, damage, or contamination buildup. The interior walls of the pump case showed no abnormal wear, scalloping, or contaminant buildup. The intake and output chambers within the pump case walls were clean and free from any foreign material.

Although all navigational and flight instruments were destroyed, the gyroscope mechanism from the attitude indicator was recovered and disassembled for inspection. The gyroscope rotor buckets showed no evidence of stains or contamination, and the air jet orifices were clean and free of any obstructions. When the rotor mass was spun rapidly by hand, there were no sounds of rubbing or grinding in the bearings, and there were no scars indicating rotor contact with the case.


According to the United States Government Flight Information Publication (U.S. Terminal Procedures), the IFR departure procedure from Coeur D'Alene Airport runway 01 is to turn left after departure and climb via the Coeur D'Alene VOR (COE) radial 005 until reaching 5,400 feet MSL. Then to reverse course and continue to climb while proceeding direct to the VOR. During the investigation, it was determined that about three and one-half miles north of the airport, COE radial 005 passes approximately one mile west of Alpine Lake (see Area Map #1). By plotting recorded radar tracking data (NTAP), it was determined that at 0748:15 (1548:15 UTC), five seconds after the pilot transmitted that he was not sure of his altitude and was in a right turn, the aircraft was less than a mile south of the accident site and one mile east of COE radial 005 (see Area Map #2).

Review of the LANCAIR IV Pilot's Operating Handbook revealed that according to the kit manufacturer, " has the potential to not only reduce its (the wing's) lifting capability, but also will significantly increase drag and stall speeds and more importantly change your stall characteristics." The handbook goes on to advise pilots that should the aircraft begin to accumulate ice, as soon as they notice it, they should attempt to avoid it by changing altitude or reversing course. The handbook further states that, "Flight into known icing is prohibited. Flight into inadvertent icing is not to be treated lightly." A portion of a warning on the same page as the aforementioned information states, "Stall/spin characteristics of the Lancair with ice have not been evaluated. AVOID!"

A forensic toxicology examination was performed on the remains of both occupants by the FAA Toxicology and Accident Research Laboratory. These tests failed to detect any cyanide, ethanol or drugs in their specimens, and there was no carbon monoxide detected in the passenger's blood. A test for carbon monoxide in the pilot's blood could not be completed because of a lack of suitable specimen.

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