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N297JH accident description

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Tail numberN297JH
Accident dateNovember 19, 2002
Aircraft typeJohn H. Heiring Express
LocationMoncks Corner, SC
Near 33.265 N, -80.008611 W
Additional details: None

NTSB description


On November 19, 2002, about 1655 eastern standard time, a homebuilt Express, N297JH, registered to Industries Unlimited, Inc., crashed into Lake Moultrie, near Moncks Corner, South Carolina. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed at the time and no flight plan was filed for the 14 CFR Part 91 personal flight. The airplane was destroyed and the private-rated pilot and two passengers were fatally injured. The flight last departed from Berkeley County Airport, Moncks Corner, South Carolina, about 2 minutes earlier.

According to air traffic control (ATC) information, the flight departed at 1613, from Charleston Air Force Base/International Airport, and remained in contact with that facility until 1617, when an occupant of the airplane advised the controller that Berkeley County Airport was in sight. According to the Airport Director of the Berkeley County Airport, the accident airplane was observed remaining in the traffic pattern where six or seven touch-and-go landings were performed. The pilot-in-command, who according to one of the co-owners initialized the flight to get more flying hours, reported over the UNICOM frequency that the airplane was departing the traffic pattern. A witness stated that during the touch and go landings, the engine sounded normal.

A witness who was in a boat on Lake Moultrie about 1/2 mile from the crash site reported seeing the airplane flying level from Moncks Corner to Bonneau, the engine was surging. The nose of the airplane was then observed to pitch down and the airplane entered a right bank. The airplane was observed spinning clockwise around its longitudinal axes for not more than two rotations before impacting the water at a 90-degree angle.


The pilot-in-command, who was seated in the left seat was issued a private pilot certificate with airplane single engine land, and instrument airplane ratings on May 11, 1999. He was issued a third class medical certificate on January 4, 2001, with the stated restrictions, "must wear corrective lenses." The FAA records showed he had accumulated 347 flying hours.

The pilot-rated passenger was the holder of a private pilot certificate with airplane single-engine land and sea, multi-engine land, and instrument airplane ratings, issued on March 31, 1995. He was last issued a third class medical certificate on May 30, 2000, with the stated restrictions, "must wear corrective lenses for near and distant vision." The FAA records showed he had accumulated 2,025 flying hours.


The airplane was an experimental amateur-built Express manufactured in 1998, by J.H. Heiring, as serial number 129. The four-seated airplane was equipped with a Lycoming IO-540 reciprocating engine and a variable pitch Hartzell propeller. The airplane had two ignition systems, one consisted of an engine-driven magneto, which fires the bottom sparkplugs of all cylinders and an electronic ignition system, which fires the top sparkplugs of all cylinders. The electronic ignition system consists of a processor, two amplifiers, three coils, a capacitor which functions as a noise filter, and associated wiring. The airplane was equipped with two main tanks (25 gallons each), and two auxiliary tanks (20 gallons each). A main fuel selector, which could be positioned to "left," "right" or "off" and two secondary fuel selectors, one for each wing, with positions "main," "auxiliary" or "off", were installed.

According to maintenance records, the last conditional inspection was performed on September 5, 2002, at an indicated time of 269.4 hours. The airplane had accumulated 6.5 hours since the inspection at the time of the accident.

One of the co-owners believes the accident flight departed from Charleston Air Force Base/International Airport with 50 gallons of fuel on board.


On the day of the accident at 1656, a METAR surface observation was taken at Charleston Air Force Base/International Airport which is about 22.1 nautical miles south-southwest of the accident site. The wind was reported to be from 190 degrees at 3 knots and the altimeter setting 30.25 Hg. The visibility was 10 miles with scattered clouds at 25,000 feet, and the temperature and dew point were 13 and 7 degrees Celsius, respectively.


A witness who was at Berkeley County airport at the time of the accident, heard a person on the UNICOM reporting position reports while they were doing touch and go landings. He then heard the person on the UNICOM reporting they were leaving the traffic pattern. A second witness also at Berkeley County airport at the time of the accident reported hearing the left seat occupant report on the UNICOM frequency while the airplane was observed performing touch-and-go landings.


The airplane crashed in Lake Moultrie and was found at position 33 degrees 15.89 minutes North latitude and 80 degrees 00.51 minutes West longitude, or 4.93 nautical miles northwest of runway 5, at a depth between 45 and 50 feet. Divers reported that both wings of the airplane were broken but attached with cables, and the fuselage was broken just aft of the front seats. The airplane was recovered.

Examination of the wreckage following recovery by the NTSB revealed the fuselage was broken about 7 feet forward of the horizontal stabilizer. The left wing main spar was fractured near the main landing gear; the right wing was fragmented and the main spar was fractured about 15 inches from the fuselage. The left aileron push pull tube was connected to the pilot control stick, but the push/pull rod was fractured about 7 inches from the root of the wing. The flap torque tube was found connected to the actuator, which was extended 2.8 inches from the housing. The right aileron push/pull tube was fractured and separated from the control column; a 6 feet section of aileron push/pull rod was still attached to the bellcrank near the right aileron control surface. The push/pull rod near the right aileron bellcrank was bent and fractured near the right aileron. The right wing auxiliary and main fuel tanks finger screens were found clean. Flight control continuity was confirmed for pitch and yaw. The rudder counterweight was separated and located; the rudder was found connected to both hinges. The right elevator counterweight was separated and not located; both elevator flight control surfaces were connected at all hinges on both sides. All recovered fuel supply and fuel vent lines for the left and right wings were clear of obstructions. The gascolator screen was clean, the gascolator was found empty and the bowl was partially separated.

Examination of the cockpit revealed the elevator trim was found in the maximum nose up position, and the aileron trim was in the full roll right position. Ballast in the form of lead pellets were found scattered in the fuselage behind the bulkhead, the plastic bag was found torn. The flap switch was found in the neutral position. The hobbs meter indicated 275.9 hours. The electronic ignition, magneto, and boost pump switches were in the "OFF" position, a wire was found separated from the magneto ignition switch. The alternator and avionics master switches were in the "ON" position. The right electronic ignition amplifier was found with the connector not hooked up, the connector was found broken in half. The main fuel selector was found between "off" and "Left," and the left secondary fuel selector was positioned to "Left Main." Testing revealed that fuel flow was possible through the main fuel selector, as found. The throttle, mixture, and propeller controls were full forward.

Examination of the engine revealed crankshaft, camshaft, and valve-train continuity to all cylinders. The oil filter and oil suction screen were free of debris. All fuel injector lines and nozzles were clear of obstructions, the fuel line from the servo fuel injector to the flow divider was free of obstructions. The auxiliary fuel pump operated post accident. The mixture control was connected to the arm of the servo; but the arm was separated from the servo fuel injector. The servo fuel injector was separated from the engine but was recovered; the throttle control was broken off. The magneto was properly timed to the engine. The servo fuel injector, magneto and partial electronic ignition system were retained for further testing.

Examination of the Hartzell propeller revealed the No. 1 blade was rotated in the hub about 180 degrees, bent aft approximately 90 degrees, and gouges were noted in the trailing edge of the blade. The No. 2 blade was bent aft about 40 degrees.


A postmortem examination of both front seats pilots was requested by the FAA-IIC, but was performed for only the pilot-rated passenger by the Department of Pathology, Medical University of South Carolina and was authorized by the Berkeley County Coroner. The probable cause of death was generalized blunt trauma.

Toxicological analysis of specimens of the right seat pilot was performed by the American Institute of Toxicology (AIT), and FAA Toxicology and Accident Research Laboratory (CAMI), located in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. The results of analysis by AIT was positive for methanol ( 0.808 mg/gm); the test for drugs was negative. The results of analysis by CAMI was negative for ethanol in kidney and muscle; metoprolol was detected in liver. Screening for carbon monoxide, and cyanide was not performed.


Examination of the magneto revealed it sparked at all ignition leads but operated intermittently when placed on a test bench. The magneto was removed from the test bench, and the distributor gear contacts and electrode were cleaned of corrosion. The magneto was reinstalled on the test bench, and sparked at all ignition leads; no discrepancies were noted. Testing of the condenser following the bench test revealed it failed specification. The point gap and E-gap were within specification. No evidence of carbon tracking was noted on the distributor gear. The impulse coupling disengaged at specified rpm.

The partial electronic ignition system, which included the left amplifier, three coils, a capacitor and associated wiring, were tested. The left electronic ignition amplifier was hooked up to one of the coils and sparks were produced, however a unusual sound came from the amplifier during testing. According to the manufacturer, it should operate in silence; the amplifier discontinued operating after the initial testing. The 3 coils connected to the system showed primary resistance out of range as specified by the manufacturer, the secondary resistance was in the expected range.

Examination of the servo fuel injector assembly revealed impact damage. Bench testing of the unit with NTSB oversight as found revealed the mixture control was in the full rich position, and the regulator was able to travel freely. The initial test run showed that at a medium suction value (comparable with a middle power setting), the flow was within service flow limits. At maximum suction (comparable with a full power setting), the flow was 5 pounds-per-hour (pph) below the service flow limit. A second test run at maximum metering suction increased the flow, but was still 3 pph below the service flow limit. No water came from the servo during the bench test; a slight amount of water was found in the airside of the regulator. During disassembly of the servo fuel injector, debris was found on the ball valve and seat of the regulator, and dirt was found inside the mixture control housing. The diaphragm indicated recent repair, and the packing for the mixture control and idle control jets was old.

Review of the engine maintenance records revealed it was overhauled by a certified FAA repair station in May 2002, because of a propeller strike, and was returned for service in July 12, 2002. The overhauled engine had accumulated about 40 hours since the overhaul at the time of the accident.

Weight and balance calculations revealed the airplane was in the center of gravity limitations at departure and at the time of the accident.


The NTSB released the wreckage and the retained parts to David E Gorgeous, Senior Surveyor, of CTC Services Aviation (LAD, Inc.), on October 29, 2003.

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