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|Accident date||July 24, 2007|
|Aircraft type||Cessna 150L|
Near 42.392777 N, -77.189444 W
HISTORY OF FLIGHT
On July 24, 2007, at 0407 eastern daylight time, a Cessna 150L, N10958, was substantially damaged when it impacted terrain near Hammondsport, New York. The certificated private pilot/owner was fatally injured. Instrument meteorological conditions prevailed, and no flight plan was filed for the flight, which departed Chautauqua County/Jamestown Airport (JHW), Jamestown, New York, about 0300, destined for Ithaca Tompkins Regional Airport (ITH), Ithaca, New York. The personal flight was conducted under 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91.
According to the previous owner of the airplane, the pilot had traveled to Cadillac, Michigan, because he was interested in purchasing the airplane. Following a "pre-buy" mechanical inspection, the pilot purchased the airplane and flew to South Bend, Indiana. On July 23, 2007, he flew the airplane back to Cadillac to have the alternator repaired by a mechanic.
According to the mechanic, the pilot initially advised him that he would arrive about 1300; however, the pilot did not actually arrive until about 1600. The mechanic examined the alternator, and found that in order to repair it, he needed to obtain a part that would have to be ordered, and would take at least two days to arrive. He advised the pilot of this, the pilot replied that he did not want to wait, and the pilot had the mechanic reinstall the alternator without repairing it. Despite the efforts of the previous owner to convince the pilot to stay the night, the pilot "was intent on leaving" and there was "no changing his mind." When the mechanic asked the pilot why he was so anxious to depart, the pilot stated that there was a "mass of rain" moving into the New York area from the east and that, "If I leave now, I can beat it."
The mechanic was surprised when the accident pilot later asked both him and the previous owner of the airplane if they knew how to file a flight plan or obtain flight following services. Neither was able to assist the pilot, since they did not know how to themselves. The mechanic was further surprised that the pilot did not know how to operate the overhead interior lights in the airplane, and that he did not have a flashlight. The previous owner provided the accident pilot with a flashlight before he departed Cadillac.
About 2000, the pilot departed Cadillac, destined for his home in Ithaca, New York. An examination of an itinerary and fuel receipts found in the wreckage revealed that the pilot arrived at Metcalf Field (TDZ), Toledo, Ohio, about 2215.
A lineman, who had interacted with the pilot while he was on the ground at TDZ, provided details of the pilot's visit in a telephone interview. According to the lineman, the pilot borrowed an airport vehicle, and went into town to get some dinner. After returning to the airport, the pilot made several telephone calls, and then used a weather computer for about 5 to 10 minutes. The pilot then returned to the airplane, started it, and idled in front of the terminal for about 15 minutes before taxiing out to the runway. The lineman became concerned when the pilot did not turn on the pilot-controlled runway lighting by the time he reached the intersection of the runways, so the lineman turned the lights on for him. When asked about the appearance of the airplane, the lineman stated that it "looked like a really nice airplane," and that all of the lights were on it seemed to be in working order.
The pilot departed TDZ about 2340 for JHW, the pilot's next intended fuel stop. According to the lineman who fueled the airplane at JHW, the pilot contacted him earlier in the day, and made arrangements for him to remain at the airport after the normal closing time. The pilot told the lineman that he planned to arrive at JHW around 2100. Shortly after 2300, the pilot contacted the lineman and stated that he was leaving TDZ, and that he needed the lineman to wait for him. The lineman agreed, and after the airplane arrived about 0245, the lineman serviced the airplane with 15.1 gallons of fuel.
During the fuel stop, the lineman noted that the pilot seemed alert, and was very cordial and polite. When the pilot asked the lineman if there was a computer available to check the weather conditions, the lineman directed the pilot to it, where he remained for about 5 minutes before departing the airport. The lineman did not see or hear any mechanical problems with the airplane when it was arriving or departing, and he reported that the airplane's lights seemed to be operating normally. When asked about the weather conditions at JHW around the time that the pilot departed, the lineman stated that it was clear, and that visual meteorological conditions prevailed.
Several witnesses who lived in the vicinity of the accident site reported hearing the accident airplane about 0400. During interviews they all recounted a similar series of events. They were all asleep, and were awakened by the "loud" sound of an airplane flying over their houses. One of the witnesses reported that after he heard the airplane fly over, he heard "what sounded like the plane hitting something and a crunching noise." Several of the witnesses went outside, but did not see anything, and returned to their homes. The witnesses reported that it was very dark, and that there was a heavy mist or light rain present.
Review of air traffic control information provided by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) revealed that a radar target, correlated to be the accident airplane, was in the vicinity of the accident site about the time the witnesses reported hearing it fly over. At 0404, the airplane tracked generally eastbound until 0406, when it made an abrupt turn, and began tracking in a westerly direction, then in a northerly direction. The airplane was last observed at 0407. No altitude information was available for the target.
An airmen's meteorological information (AIRMET) forecasting instrument metrological conditions along the route of flight between JHW and ITH was issued at 2245. It warned of ceilings below 1,000 feet, and visibilities below 3 statute miles due to clouds, precipitation, mist, and fog, with the conditions continuing beyond 0500. An AIRMET for mountain obscuration was also issued at the same time, and warned of mountains obscured by clouds, precipitation and mist, also continuing beyond 0500.
The weather conditions reported ITH, which was located approximately 33 nautical miles east of the accident site, from 1956 through 0356, included overcast or broken ceilings between 100 and 800 feet, and visibilities between 1 and 2 statute miles in light rain and mist.
The weather conditions reported at ITH, at 0414, included winds from 270 degrees true at 6 knots, 2 statute miles visibility in mist, an overcast ceiling at 100 feet, varying to 500 feet, temperature 14 degrees Celsius, dewpoint 13 degrees Celsius, and an altimeter setting of 30.09 inches of mercury.
According to the United States Naval Observatory, at the accident scene on the night of the accident flight, sunset occurred at 2038 and the end of civil twilight occurred at 2111. The moon rose at 1629 and set at 0017.
The pilot held an FAA private pilot certificate with a rating for airplane single engine land, which was issued on January 4, 1994. The limitations portion of the certificate stated, "night flying prohibited." The certificate was issued on the basis of, and only valid when accompanied by, an Argentinean pilot license. The pilot also held an FAA third-class medical certificate, issued in January 2006, with a limitation of "must wear corrective lenses." A review of the pilot's flight logs revealed that he had accumulated 99 total hours of flight experience, 3.2 hours of which were at night. In addition, 50 of the 99 total hours were logged prior to 1994, with the balance logged since January 2006. The pilot did not hold an instrument rating.
WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION
The wreckage path was about 150 feet long, and oriented in a direction of about 300 degrees magnetic. The initial impact point was in a tree about 7 feet tall, about 1 foot from its top. A large ground scar, about 6 feet in diameter, was located about 15 feet beyond the initial impact point. The grass and shrubbery was flattened and wilted in a fan pattern from the ground scar to a tree line about 50 feet beyond it, oriented perpendicular to the wreckage path. The main wreckage was located at the end of the wreckage path, within the trees.
Various components of the airplane were deposited along the wreckage path, including the right wing tip, propeller, nose landing gear strut, left door and window frame, right door window frame, pieces of wing and fuselage skin, as well as numerous personal effects. The main wreckage was comprised of both wings, the fuselage, and the empennage, all of which were heavily distorted and damaged. All components of the airplane were accounted for at the scene.
Control continuity was established from the cockpit controls to the ailerons, rudder, and elevator. Measurement of the elevator trim tab revealed that it was set to a 1-degree tab up position. Examination of the flap actuator revealed that the flaps were in the retracted position. Both fuel tanks were ruptured, but the left fuel tank contained an undetermined amount of fluid consistent with 100 octane low-lead aviation gasoline. The gascolator was removed, and it also contained fuel. The strainer screen was absent of debris. The throttle and mixture controls were found in the full forward position, and the ignition switch was found in the "both" position.
When the propeller flange was rotated by hand, continuity of the engine crankshaft and valvetrain was established to the rear accessory gears. Compression was confirmed on all cylinders using the "thumb" method. Examination of the top four spark plugs revealed no abnormalities. The carburetor bowl was absent of debris and fuel, and the carburetor floats exhibited signatures consistent with hydraulic deformation. Both magnetos were impact-damaged and could not be rotated. Rotation of the alternator drive gear revealed that the drive coupling would intermittently, but did not continuously, rotate the armature.
The propeller flange separated from the engine crankshaft, and remained attached to the propeller. The propeller spinner was compressed aft into the propeller mount bolts. Both propeller blades exhibited bending, twisting, and leading edge gouging.
A Garmin 195 handheld global positioning system (GPS) receiver was recovered from the wreckage, and retained for further examination.
MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION
An autopsy was performed on the pilot by the Monroe County Office of the Medical Examiner, Rochester, New York. According to the report, the cause of death was "multiple injuries."
The FAA's Bioaeronautical Sciences Research Laboratory, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, performed toxicological testing on the pilot.
TESTS AND RESEARCH
The handheld GPS recovered from the accident scene was forwarded to the National Transportation Safety Board Vehicle Recorder Laboratory for further examination. The unit exhibited significant impact-related damage, and was not able to be functionally tested, nor have its memory contents downloaded. The unit did contain an intact FLASH surface-mount memory device. The FLASH memory device was removed from the main board and replaced into a surrogate Garmin 196 for download, which yielded data corresponding to the accident unit. The memory device from the accident GPS unit contained information for zero waypoints, one route, and seven tracks dated between July 23, 2007 and July 24, 2007.
Recorded data for the flight of July 24, 2007 began at 0246:08 with the airplane on the ground at JHW. The airplane departed from runway 7 at 0301 and proceeded east. The airplane climbed to a cruise altitude of 5,600 feet GPS altitude, and maintained a groundspeed between 100 to 120 mph. The airplane later initiated a slow descent, beginning at 0327, and ending at 0333 at 3,200 feet GPS altitude. The airplane maintained level flight around this altitude for the next 30 minutes, while the groundspeed varied from 90 to 115 mph.
At 0405:30 the airplane began a left 360-degree turn, which was immediately followed by a right 360-degree turn. During these turns the airplane's altitude varied between 3,000 and 3,300 feet GPS altitude, while the groundspeed varied between 80 and 134 mph. The airplane achieved a rate of turn exceeding 15 degrees per second on two occasions. At 0406:30, the airplane began to descend at an increasing rate, and groundspeed increased from 99 mph to a maximum of 154 mph. The GPS unit stopped recording as the airplane completed the second 360-degree turn. The last GPS update took place at 0407:11, and placed the airplane at 1,890 feet GPS altitude. The last GPS-computed groundspeed was 142 mph, and computed course was 236 degrees true. The last plotted position of the airplane was about 170 feet east of the accident site.
According to the FAA Airplane Flying Handbook (FAA-H-8083-3), "Night flying is very different from day flying and demands more attention of the pilot. The most noticeable difference is the limited availability of outside visual references. Therefore, flight instruments should be used to a greater degree. Generally, at night it is difficult to see clouds and restrictions to visibility, particularly on dark nights or under overcast. The pilot flying under VFR must exercise caution to avoid flying into clouds or a layer of fog."
The handbook described some hazards associated with flying in airplanes under VFR when visual references, such as the ground or horizon, are obscured. "The vestibular sense (motion sensing by the inner ear) in particular tends to confuse the pilot. Because of inertia, the sensory areas of the inner ear cannot detect slight changes in the attitude of the airplane, nor can they accurately sense attitude changes that occur at a uniform rate over a period of time. On the other hand, false sensations are often generated; leading the pilot to believe the attitude of the airplane has changed when in fact, it has not. These false sensations result in the pilot experiencing spatial disorientation. When a disoriented pilot actually does make a recovery from a turn, bank, climb, or descent, there is a very strong tendency to feel that the airplane has entered a turn, bank, climb, or descent in the opposite directions. These false sensations may lead to the well-known 'graveyard spiral'."