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N5382S accident description

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Tail numberN5382S
Accident dateMay 17, 2008
Aircraft typeCessna 337A
LocationWest Creek, NJ
Near 39.661111 N, -74.305556 W
Additional details: None

NTSB description

On May 17, 2008, about 1245 eastern daylight time, a Cessna 337A, N5382S, was substantially damaged when it impacted trees and terrain when attempting to divert to Eagles Nest Airport (31E), West Creek, New Jersey. The certificated commercial pilot and one passenger were fatally injured, and the other two passengers were seriously injured. The marine mammal survey flight was operated by Ambroult Aviation under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed for the flight, and no flight plan was filed.

A Texas-based environmental services company was contracted to provide marine mammal survey information for a study by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, and the company contracted with the operator to conduct the survey flights. The three passengers were employees of the company. The pilot and airplane were based at Chatham Municipal Airport (CQX), Chatham, Massachussetts, but temporarily relocated to Millville Airport (MIV), Millville, New Jersey each month for the survey flights. According to a company representative, the survey flights with the accident pilot and airplane had begun in January 2008, and were conducted on a monthly basis.

According to company documentation, the survey area extended approximately 80 miles north-south along the New Jersey shoreline, and extended approximately 20 miles east over the Atlantic Ocean. Each monthly survey consisted of flying the 30 numbered course lines, called transects, to cover the entire survey area. Each transect was to be flown at 750 feet above mean seal level (MSL).

According to company personnel, the pilot and airplane were scheduled to arrive at MIV on May 14, in order to begin the survey at 0700 on May 15. At some point on May 14, the pilot advised the company that he would not arrive at MIV until May 15.

According to personnel and records from the Millville Jet Center at MIV, the airplane arrived about noon on May 15, and the pilot requested that the "mains be topped off." The airplane was serviced with 55 gallons of 100LL avgas about 1210. No records of any subsequent fuel servicing could be located.

According to information obtained from passenger survey notes and a handheld Global Positioning System (GPS) unit recovered from the wreckage, the May 15 survey flight began from MIV at 1244, and the engines were shut down at MIV at 1721. A subsequent flight to complete the survey was scheduled for the following day, but due to inclement weather, the flight was not conducted.

On May 17, the airplane departed on the accident flight from MIV about 1104. The day's survey began with transect 14, which was approximately 60 miles from MIV. Transect 14 was started at 1147, and was finished at 1159. Transect 15 was started at 1201, and was finished at 1226. Transect 16 was started at 1228.

According to one surviving passenger, at some point "after finishing the third survey line," the pilot remarked that he would have to "break off" the survey because the airplane "was having problems," and that he needed to "go back." The passenger said that the pilot did not elaborate on the problem, but the passenger saw the pilot repeatedly manipulating the fuel selector valve handles. The passenger stated that he observed the front propeller cease and then re-start rotating several times. The passenger stated that according to the pilot, they would divert for landing to the "closest airstrip." One passenger asked how far it was to the nearest airstrip, and the front seat passenger replied "about 10 minutes."

Three witnesses, who lived in two separate houses approximately 1/2 mile east of the approach end of Eagles Nest runway 32, heard and saw the accident airplane heading for the airport. All three stated that they were familiar with the sounds and traffic patterns of airplanes using the airport, and that their attention was drawn to the airplane because of its low altitude and unusual sounds. All three stated that the airplane was descending, and that the engine stopped and restarted at least two times. All three of the witnesses heard the sounds of impact. One of these witnesses searched the airport herself for about 10 minutes, but then called 911 about 1302.

About 1656, a New Jersey State Police helicopter located the wreckage. The two survivors, both seated on the right side of the airplane, were extricated and flown separately to a medical facility in Atlantic City.

The accident airplane was a 1966 model 337A. It was a six place, high wing airplane of all metal construction, with retractable, tricycle configuration landing gear. It was equipped with two Teledyne Continental IO-360 piston engines, one each at the front and rear of the fuselage. Each engine was equipped with a full feathering, two bladed McCauley propeller. The two rear-most seats were not installed in the airplane at the time of the accident.

The majority of the wreckage was tightly contained in a wooded area approximately 400 feet south of the approach end of runway 32. The main wreckage consisted of the entire airplane, with the exception of the outboard one-third of the left wing. The outboard one-third of the left wing was approximately 120 feet north of the main wreckage.

The fuselage was lying on its left side, and oriented on a magnetic heading of approximately 140 degrees. The rear engine was inverted, displaced forward and to the left of its design location, but partially attached to the fuselage. The front engine was completely separated from the airplane, and was right side up. The front engine exhibited significant impact damage on its lower side. Both propellers remained fully attached to their respective hubs and engines. On each propeller, one blade was straight, while the other blade exhibited significant bending. None of the blades displayed any chordwise scratching. The forward spinner had a 6 inch by 10 inch dent, and this dent contained material transfer marks which were straight, and oriented parallel to the longitudinal axis of the engine. The aft spinner was undamaged. The inboard two-thirds of the left wing was right side up, and partially attached to the fuselage. The right wing was standing on its leading edge, and partially attached to the fuselage.

The landing gear handle and the landing gear were in their down positions. The flap handle was at the one-third down position, and flap actuator extension was measured to be 1.8 inches, which corresponded to flaps one-third down. The elevator trim tab actuator extension was measured as 2.2 inches, which equated to a deflection greater than the 15 degree trailing edge down tab travel limit.

The airspeed indicator indicated approximately 85 miles per hour, and the Kollsman window in the altimeter was set to 29.66 inches of mercury. The vertical speed indicator indicated a descent of 825 feet per minute. The artificial horizon indicated approximately level pitch and roll attitudes, and the directional gyro registered approximately 085 degrees. The first two digits on the transponder were missing, and the last two were "70." The fuel gauges on the instrument panel were found with the following indications: Left Main, off scale low; Left Aux, zero; Right Aux, zero; Right Main, 20 gallons. All master, generator and fuel pump switches were found in the OFF position.

The emergency locator transmitter (ELT) was a Larego Electronic Manufacturing Inc model LELT-1005-BF. The ELT and its attached battery pack were intact. The ELT switch was found in the "ON" position. The 9 volt battery pack carried a "replace by" date of May 2004. The residual battery voltage was measured to be 0.4 volts. A field test of the ELT with a new 9 volt battery did not produce a detectable signal.

The fuel system consisted of three metal tanks in each wing. Each two-tank main tank had a capacity of 46 gallons, resulting in a total fuel capacity of 130 gallons. Each of the two auxiliary tanks had a capacity of 19 gallons. Either main tank could supply either engine, but the left auxiliary tank could only supply the front engine, and the right auxiliary tank could only supply the rear engine. All six fuel tanks were found intact, with caps properly installed.

A total of approximately 13 gallons of fuel were recovered from the tanks. The main tanks contained either trace amounts, or were completely devoid of fuel. The right auxiliary tank contained approximately 11 gallons, and the left auxiliary tank contained approximately 2 gallons. The recovered fuel was clear and bright, with no visible contaminants. Tests with water-detection paste were negative, indicating that no water was present in the fuel.

The two fuel selector valve handles, one for each engine, were located in the cockpit ceiling along the airplane centerline. Each valve handle was connected by a push-pull cable to a fuel valve in one of the wing roots. The fuel selector valve handle for the front engine was found in the "Left Aux" position, and the corresponding fuel selector valve was found set to the port from the left auxiliary tank The fuel selector valve handle for the rear engine was found in the "Right Main" position, and the corresponding fuel selector valve was found set to an unused port.

The pilot held a private pilot certificate with airplane single engine land rating, a commercial pilot certificate with ratings for instrument airplane and airplane multiengine land that was limited to aircraft with centerline thrust. He also held a mechanic certificate with airframe and powerplant ratings, and an inspection authorization. According to documentation that the pilot provided to his insurance company in November 2007, he reported 3,775 total hours of flight experience, 2,810 hours of multiengine flight experience, and 285 hours in the accident airplane make and model. FAA records indicated that the pilot's most recent second class medical was issued in December 2007, and that the airplane was first registered to him in March 1998. None of the three passengers held any pilot certificates.

The 1254 weather observation at an airport located approximately 20 miles south of the accident airport reported winds from 250 degrees at 11 knots with gusts to 16 knots, clear skies, 10 miles visibility, temperature 21degrees Celsius (C), dew point 7 degrees C, and an altimeter setting of 29.61 inches of mercury.

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