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N3107V accident description

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Tail numberN3107V
Accident dateJanuary 23, 1996
Aircraft typeCessna R172K
LocationHighland Hills, OH
Additional details: None

NTSB description

HISTORY OF FLIGHT

On January 23, 1996, at 0745 eastern standard time (EST), a Cessna R172K, N3107V, struck a 300 foot tower while in cruise flight near Highland Hills, Ohio. The Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) certificated pilot and the one passenger sustained fatal injuries, and the aircraft was destroyed. The flight originated from the Burke Lakefront Airport (BKL), in Cleveland, Ohio, at 0721 EST. No flight plan was filed and marginal visual meteorological conditions prevailed in the local area with instrument meteorological conditions at the scene of the accident. The flight was conducted under 14 CFR Part 91, and the accident airplane was one of two company airplanes airborne for the purpose of ground traffic surveillance to be broadcast on a local radio station.

The commercial pilot who was flying the other company airplane submitted a witness statement regarding the circumstances surrounding the accident. She stated that the two pilots and two traffic reporters were scheduled to fly the early morning traffic watch pattern in a staggered manner, to provide optimal coverage of the route. A diagram of the traffic watch pattern is appended. The commercial pilot stated that she and the ATP pilot in the accident airplane had flown together before, and had established a routine wherein the first pilot airborne would obtain the weather briefing, then pass the weather information to the second pilot via the VHF radio.

The commercial pilot stated that on the morning of the accident, she took off approximately 45 minutes prior to the ATP pilot . She stated that she assessed the weather as she and the traffic reporter/passenger flew counterclockwise on their predetermined track around the city's main traffic arteries. In her statement, the commercial pilot wrote that the weather that morning was marginal VFR, with the southeast corner of the track a little worse than the other areas. She attributed the poorer conditions in the southeast corner to the higher elevation and the surrounding topography. The commercial pilot stated that she and the ATP pilot established radio contact when they were both airborne. She stated that she had told the ATP pilot that the weather in the southeast corner was deteriorating and that she would probably cut her traffic patrol short for that morning. She reported that she also informed him that she had to descend to 1,550 feet Mean Sea Level (MSL) in order to remain clear of clouds while transiting the southeast portion of the route.

The commercial pilot reported that she and the ATP pilot usually attempted to stay opposite each other as they circumnavigated the pre-planned rectangular route. She stated that when she did not hear from the ATP pilot for a short period of time, she assumed that he was probably talking to Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Air Traffic Control (ATC) to get a Special Visual Flight Rules (VFR) clearance through the controlled airspace in the southeast portion of their route. The commercial pilot stated that she decided to avoid the deteriorating weather in the southeast portion of the route by utilizing the alternate traffic watch route. The alternate route extended further south than the original route. The commercial pilot stated that approximately 12 minutes after her last radio communication with the ATP pilot, BKL ATC contacted her, and asked if she was in radio contact with the pilot of the accident airplane. The commercial pilot stated that minutes later, the traffic watch radio reported that the other airplane had "...gone down".

Witnesses stated that a very dense fog had developed in the vicinity of the accident, and the top of the cellular tower was no longer visible from the ground. Witnesses reported that they heard a loud popping sound and saw the airplane descend out of the fog layer, and impact the ground. The commercial pilot stated that she reversed her course and flew north to search for the ATP pilot. She reported that she could not remember what altitude she descended to as she looked for the second pilot. Radar data indicated that the commercial pilot flew within 1/4 mile of the tower which the accident airplane struck, at an altitude below the maximum tower height.

OTHER DAMAGE

The cellular tower the airplane impacted is 300 feet tall and the top is 1548 feet MSL. The tower consists of a 290 foot triangular metal skeletal framework with a four foot tall aviation red, obstruction light globe on top. At the top, two corners have 10 foot tall antennas which extend the height to 300 feet above the ground. Diagrams of the tower are appended. The four foot aviation red obstruction light globe contains two separate lights that alternate on and off. An alarm was installed in the tower because of the requirement for immediate notification of a failed or malfunctioning light which can not be corrected within 30 minutes. The alarm system refers to these two lights as "Beacon 1" and "Beacon 2". Post accident examination revealed that the airplane's right wing struck the tower at the top of the metal framework near the base of the aviation red obstruction light globe. The alarm report indicates that Beacon 1 failed at 07:44:58 with Beacon 2 recorded as failing at 07:45:16. The outboard 60 inches of the right wing separated from the main wreckage and were imbedded in the tower. The debris remained in the tower until January 25, 1996, when removed by the tower maintenance crew. The tower received minor damage.

COMMUNICATION

The commercial pilot received a weather briefing from the FAA Flight Service Station (FSS). The weather was reported to be marginal VFR, and the pilot reported that it was getting worse in certain portions of their intended flight path. The two pilots had the capability to talk to one another on their VHF radios, utilizing a prearranged, discreet frequency.

The commercial pilot stated that each airplane carried a special two-way radio so the traffic reporter/passenger could make live broadcasts, communicate with the traffic reporter in the other airplane, or talk directly to radio studio personnel when traffic conditions demanded special attention. The commercial pilot stated that she and the ATP pilot had been discussing the weather conditions, and the possibility of cutting the flight short because of the deteriorating weather in the southeast corner of their track. A radio employee in the studio stated that she heard the two airborne traffic reporters talking to one another and asking questions concerning the weather. The employee stated that she last heard from the traffic reporter at approximately 0743 EST, at which time she turned down the volume to her radio to make a report.

PERSONNEL INFORMATION

The pilot of the accident airplane held an Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) certificate, with single and multiengine land privileges, and an instrument rating. The pilot's logbooks indicated that he had approximately 2400 hours of flight time. The pilot had been hired by the operator in 1993, and had been flying the traffic watch route for more than two years.

AIRCRAFT INFORMATION

A review of airplane maintenance records indicated that the most recent Annual Inspection was complete on January 14, 1996, at an airframe total time of 3800 hours. The FAA Inspector reported that, as of January 1, 1996, all airworthiness directives had been accomplished. There was no reported problem with the airplane prior to or after takeoff.

METEOROLOGICAL CONDITIONS

The weather observation made at Cuyahoga County Airport (which is located 8 miles north of the accident site) at 0745 EST reported: Estimated ceilings, 900 feet overcast; Visibility, 3 miles with rain, light snow, light fog; Temperature, 36 degrees Fahrenheit (F); Dewpoint, 34 degrees F; Wind out of 190 degrees at 5 knots; altimeter setting, 30.00 inches Hg.

WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION

The airplane struck the 300 foot tower near the top. The outboard portion of the right wing separated 46 inches outboard of the lift strut attachment. The separated section of wing remained lodged in the tower, and was not removed until January 25, 1996. The main wreckage final resting point was on a sloped bank, adjacent to a small lake, located approximately 900 feet north of the tower. Ground scar evidence indicated that the initial ground impact occurred about 10 feet south of the airplane's final resting place. The airplane impacted the ground inverted, in a nose down attitude. Flight control continuity was confirmed, and the flaps were in the retracted position. Post accident inspection of the engine did not reveal any evidence of pre-impact mechanical anomaly.

MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION

A Medical Examination of the pilot was performed by Dr. Elizabeth K Balraj, Coroner's Office, Cuyahoga County, Ohio, on January 23, 1996. A toxicological examination was conducted at the FAA's Civil Aeromedical Institute in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Toxicological tests detected 135.400 (ug/ml, ug/g) acetaminophen in urine.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

A Letter of Agreement (LOA) between Cleveland Hopkins ATC Tower and Metro Traffic Control, Inc. existed at the time of the accident. Since the planned traffic watch route passed through 3 ATC facilities' airspace, the LOA addressed communication with these facilities. The LOA also defined the routes that the pilots would follow, and dictated that the routes were to be flown daily during the morning and afternoon rush hours, in visual meteorological conditions (VMC). The operator considered that visual conditions were necessary for the traffic reporter to see the traffic below, and for the pilot to navigate the planned route. The LOA did not contain provisions for deteriorating weather conditions once the aircraft were airborne. The commercial pilot stated that her unofficial plan if she encountered instrument meteorological conditions was to maintain an altitude of 1550 feet MSL. The tower the accident airplane impacted reached 1548 feet MSL.

When interviewed by the FAA inspectors and the NTSB investigator, the first pilot seemed to be confused whether or not she was paid if the flight was canceled due to inclement weather. She stated that she was under the impression that if she had to cancel, she would not be paid or "...they would have to drive the route in an automobile and that would put 2 more cars on the road." Supervisory personnel interviewed stated that, in fact, the pilots would be paid if they showed up for the flight and had to cancel due to weather.

The wreckage was released to Mr. Kyle D. Moore of the United States Aviation Underwriters, Inc. on January 25, 1996.

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