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N127E accident description

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Tail numberN127E
Accident dateJuly 23, 1996
Aircraft typeGlasair/GL20(AF)
Chester GLASAIR RG(NTSB)
LocationLafayette, LA
Near 30.16667 N, -91.9 W
Additional details: White

NTSB description

HISTORY OF FLIGHT

On July 23, 1996, approximately 2115 central daylight time, a Chester Glasair RG, N127E, registered to and operated by a private owner as a Title 14 CFR Part 91 personal cross country flight, was destroyed when it collided with trees and impacted terrain while maneuvering near Lafayette, Louisiana. Dark night visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and a flight plan was not filed. The private pilot and passenger were fatally injured. The flight originated from Boerne Stage Field Airport, San Antonio, Texas, at about 1840.

The owner of the aircraft reported that the pilot was considering purchasing the aircraft and was en route to Winnsboro, Louisiana, to perform a pre-purchase evaluation. The pilot was receiving VFR flight following radar services from Houston Center. Approximately one hour into the flight, while in cruise flight at 5,500 feet MSL, the aircraft approached a large area of thunderstorms that covered most of north Louisiana. After a discussion of the weather with Houston Center, the pilot turned to the east to remain south of the thunderstorms with the intention of turning north towards Winnsboro when the weather permitted. The pilot reported on frequency to Houston Center (Polk Radar position) at 2052, approximately 40 nautical miles southeast of Fort Polk, Louisiana. At 2057, Houston Center lost the aircraft's transponder code in the vicinity of Eunice, Louisiana. The controller informed the pilot that he was not receiving the aircraft's transponder code and requested the aircraft's altitude. The pilot reported he was at 5,500 feet. This was the last radio communication from the pilot, and repeated attempts to reestablish communications were unsuccessful. Radar contact was lost approximately 5 nautical miles northwest of Lafayette Regional Airport at 2100. The aircraft was located by the Civil Air Patrol on July 26, 1996, approximately 1235, about 5 nautical miles east of the Lafayette Regional Airport, in a relatively unpopulated, unlit, and densely wooded area.

PERSONNEL INFORMATION

The instrument rated private pilot was a Lieutenant Colonel in the United States Air Force on active duty. He served as the Chief of Pediatric Surgery at the Wilford Hall Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas.

The pilot became qualified as a private pilot on May 20, 1986, and became an instrument rated pilot on September 20, 1987. According to the pilot's log book he had a break in flying from March 28, 1992, to January 6, 1993, and another break from November 28, 1993, to May 11, 1996.

The pilot's last biennial flight review and instrument competency check was on May 11, 1996. He had a total flight time of 551 hours in all aircraft, with 433 hours as PIC. He had received a 2 hour check out in the accident airplane on June 23, 1996, and he did not fly it again until the day of the accident. He had flown another aircraft approximately two hours the day of the accident.

AIRCRAFT INFORMATION

The Glasair RG kit aircraft is a high performance two-place, low wing airplane, with an airframe constructed primarily from female molded fiberglass composite components. The RG model has a retractable tricycle landing gear, and according to the manufacturer, it has "light and responsive flight controls."

A review of the airframe and engine records did not reveal evidence that any anomalies or uncorrected maintenance defects existed prior to the flight. The aircraft had a total time since new of approximately 937 hours. The aircraft's last condition inspection was completed on March 2, 1996, and time flown since the inspection was approximately 7 hours.

METEOROLOGICAL INFORMATION

Houston Center issued the following in-flight advisory (SIGMET) to the pilot at 2016 CDT. A convective SIGMET valid until 2155 for severe thunderstorms moving from 270 degrees at 20 knots with two inch hail and wind gusts to 65 knots possible. This SIGMET covered an area from 60 miles east of Texarkana, Arkansas, to 60 miles northeast of Alexandria, Louisiana, to 40 miles southeast of Alexandria to 40 miles northeast of Austin, Texas, to 60 miles east of Texarkana.

The Fort Polk special weather observation at 2055 reported 6,000 feet broken ceiling, cumulonimbus, frequent cloud-to-ground and cloud-to-cloud lightning, with thunderstorms north of the field moving south-southeast.

The Lafayette Regional Airport local weather observation at 2151 reported 2,900 feet scattered, 15 miles visibility, altimeter 30.01, wind 100 degrees at 8 knots, and temperature 82 degrees Fahrenheit. See NTSB Meteorological Report for further details.

COMMUNICATIONS

Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) records revealed the pilot contacted the San Angelo Flight Service Station by telephone at 2347 CDT, July 22, 1996, and requested a general outlook briefing for an IFR flight from San Antonio, Texas, to Winnsboro, Louisiana, leaving the next afternoon at 1700.

Following takeoff from Boerne Stage Field Airport, San Antonio, Texas, the pilot established initial contact with San Antonio approach control and requested flight following to Winnsboro, Louisiana, at 1846 CDT. At 1858, the pilot complied with instructions to contact Austin approach control. At 1923, the pilot was instructed to contact Houston Center, and the pilot reported on Houston Center's frequency that he was 7,500 feet MSL, VFR to Winnsboro.

At 1941, the pilot requested information from Houston Center on the weather ahead. Houston Center reported "heavy" weather 20 miles ahead and suggested maintaining a heading of 090 degrees to stay south of the weather. The pilot acknowledged. At 2006, the pilot was instructed to contact Houston Center on frequency 126.95 MHZ. The pilot reported on frequency that he was at 6,000 feet descending to 5,500 feet, and requested information on the weather ahead. Houston Center advised the pilot he should encounter intermittent precipitation from Leesville, Louisiana, to Jena, Louisiana, then solid precipitation to destination. At 2016, Houston Center's Daisetta/Woodville radar controller read the Convective Sigmet 5C for the Texas/Louisiana area to the pilot, and a discussion of its southeastern boundary ensued. At 2021, Houston Center requested the flight visibility, and the pilot reported it to be about five or six miles with haze. At 2124, the pilot was instructed to contact Fort Polk GCA. The pilot reported on frequency to Fort Polk.

At 2033, the pilot requested assistance from Fort Polk on navigating his way around the thunderstorms. Fort Polk suggested staying to the south. Again at 2043 the pilot and Fort Polk discussed circumnavigating the weather. At 2052, the pilot was instructed to contact Houston Center on frequency 135.7 MHZ, and the pilot complied.

At 2057, approximately 40 northwest of Lafayette, Louisiana (vicinity of Eunice), Houston Center informed the pilot that they had lost his transponder code, and requested his altitude. The pilot reported he was at 5,500 feet. At 2059, Houston Center tried to contact the pilot to inform him that they had lost radar contact. There was no further communication with the pilot. The last probable primary radar hit occurred at 2100, approximately five nautical miles northwest of the Lafayette Regional Airport. See the enclosed communication transcripts and radar study.

WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION

The aircraft wreckage was located in a densely wooded area approximately 5 nautical miles off the approach end of runway 29 of the Lafayette Regional Airport, at latitude 30 degrees 10.8 minutes north and longitude 91 degrees 54 minutes west.

Examination of the accident site revealed the the aircraft initially impacted the trees at a shallow angle and then descended through the trees at an approximate 30 degree angle on a 345 degree magnetic heading. Both wings separated from the fuselage as the aircraft descended through the trees. The aircraft impacted the ground approximately 270 feet from its initial entry into the trees. The main fuselage came to rest on a 145 degree magnetic heading, 27 feet beyond the initial ground scar. The initial ground scar was oriented on a 355 degree magnetic heading, and the instrument panel and portions of the cockpit were found in the scar. See the wreckage diagram for wreckage distribution.

The engine was found 32 feet from the initial ground scar in an upright position still attached to the firewall. No preexisting deficiencies were observed with the engine. See enclosed manufacturer's report for details.

The propeller was still attached to the engine; however, both wooden propeller blades were separated at the hub. Pieces of the propeller were found where the aircraft initially descended through the trees.

Flight control continuity was established to all flight controls. Examination of the landing gear revealed they were in the retracted position. The wreckage was inventoried and all major components were located. Examination of the airplane wreckage did not disclose any pre-mishap discrepancies.

MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION

The autopsy was performed by Emil M. Laga, M.D., New Iberia, Louisiana. There was no evidence of any preexisting disease that could have contributed to the accident. Toxicological findings were positive for ethonal, 13.000 mg/dl; 1-Propanol, 5.00 mg/dl; Acetaldehyde, 11.00 mg/dl; and 1-Butanol, 3.00 mg/dl. According to Dr. Canfield, Civil Aeromedical Institute (CAMI), the levels of ethanol, 1-Propanol, Acetaldehyde and 1-Butanol, detected in blood are most likely due to postmortem production since the specimens were putrefied.

TESTS AND RESEARCH

The Glasair RG flight manual contains a warning that states the aircraft is prohibited from flight in conditions that would expose it to the possibility of a lightning strike. The aircraft structures are composite and the skin is not conductive. Therefore, the airplane has a high propensity for electrostatic charge buildup due to the skin providing no pathway for electricity to transit and exit the aircraft.

Interviews with Glasair pilots revealed that static discharges are relatively common. A discharge always interferes with the communications/navigation equipment, and sometimes causes damage. One pilot reported he had a loss of his transponder and communication/navigation radios, and a postflight inspection of the radios revealed numerous shorts in their electrical components.

During a reconstruction of the aircraft on September 4, 1996, the Keesler AFB electronics technicians conducted basic component checks of the transponder and communication/navigation radios. The technicians could find no faults with the transponder or its altitude reporting unit, but they were not able to check the integrated circuits. The communication/navigation radios had numerous shorted circuits. An examination of a navigational light bulb by the NTSB revealed the filament was melted, and the metal had pooled. There was no elongation of the filament. Examination of the aircraft's electrical system circuit breakers revealed that they were destroyed by impact forces. During the reconstruction of the aircraft wreckage an examination of the aircraft heater and exhaust system was accomplished. There were no pre-mishap deficiencies found.

ADDITIONAL DATA

The aircraft wreckage was released to the owner's representative.

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