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N38272 accident description

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Tail numberN38272
Accident dateApril 17, 1999
Aircraft typePiper J-3C
LocationJackson, MS
Additional details: None

NTSB description

On April 17, 1999, about 1055 central daylight time, a Piper J3C, N38272, registered to a private individual, operating as a 14 CFR Part 91 airshow flight, lost an airshow performer by falling to earth from an externally affixed rope ladder, at Hawkins Airport, Jackson, Mississippi. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed and no flight plan was filed. The airplane received no damage, the commercially-rated pilot was not injured, but the performer sustained fatal injuries. The flight originated from the same airport about 10 minutes before the accident.

According to the pilot, after his takeoff, he let out the 12-foot rope ladder and made his first pass down runway 34 in coordination with the pickup truck to calibrate airplane-to-truck speeds. This was a planned maneuver with continual radio contact between the pilot and driver and no transfer took place. Having successfully accomplished the speed calibration pass, the pilot repositioned the airplane for the live transfer pass. He put the ladder on the truck platform within the first third of runway 34, and the truck driver radioed that the performer "was on". The pilot pulled the ladder and performer off of and clear of the truck, and was climbing through 100 feet agl, when he felt the airplane lurch. He did not actually see the fall or what may have caused it. After the accident, he stowed the ladder, landed, and taxied to the ramp. He stated that the performer was a close personal friend, and they had performed the transfer four or five times during practice that winter. He further stated that the performer had recently purchased water skiing gloves to enhance his grip.

According to an FAA inspector, an eyewitness to the accident, the performer was stationed on the truck rear platform, and had made the truck-to-ladder transfer about the midpoint of runway 34. The performer had both hands and feet on the ladder, the airplane had climbed away from the truck, and between 80 to 120 feet agl, as the performer began to ascend the rope towards the airplane, it appeared that the performer lost his grip. There were no abrupt movements of the airplane. The performer used no safety harness or retention system. The airplane conversion had been given FAA approval to be flown in the restricted category. After the accident, the inspector reexamined the ladder, hardware, and attach points. Nothing abnormal was observed. FAA approval for the airshow restricted operating limitations, and installation of the professionally constructed aerial ladder are included in this report under, Other Pertinent Forms and Reports.

In subsequent investigation to the accident, the FAA inspector stated that a video tape of the accident that was supplied to the FAA FSDO, Jackson, Mississippi, shows that the performer's leather jacket suddenly inflates just before the fall.

The surface winds reported for Jackson International Airport, about 7 miles east of Hawkins Field, for the time period, were 290 degrees at 16 knots, gusting to 21 knots. The airshow pilot whose acrobatic routine preceded the accident reported that winds aloft were strong, but that, "conditions at the runway surface allowed a smooth touch down".

Postmortem examination of the stuntman was conducted by Dr. Steven T. Hayne, M. D., Deputy Coroner, Rankin County, Mississippi State Medical Examiner's Office on April 17, 1999. The cause of death was classified as blunt force trauma from a fall from an airplane. No findings that could be considered causal were noted. Toxicological tests were conducted at the Federal Aviation Administration Toxicology and Accident Research Laboratory, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. The tests were negative for ethanol, carbon monoxide, and cyanide. Diazepam, (commonly known by its trade name, valium) and nordiazepam, (a metabolite of diazepam) were detected in the blood. Nordiazepam, (.106 ug/ml, ug/g) was also detected in the liver. According to Dr. Canfield, manager of the laboratory, the levels of diazepam and nordiazepam in the blood were below the limit of quantitation.

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