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N7417G accident description

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Tail numberN7417G
Accident dateJuly 18, 1994
Aircraft typeCessna 172K
LocationPatos Island, WA
Additional details: None

NTSB description

HISTORY OF FLIGHT

On July 18, 1994, at 0840 Pacific daylight time (PDT), a Cessna 172K, N7417G, collided with trees just after lift-off from the waters near Patos Island, Washington. The private pilot, who was the sole occupant of the aircraft, received fatal injuries, and the aircraft sustained substantial damage. The personal pleasure flight, which was departing for Friday Harbor, Washington, was being operated in visual meteorological conditions at the time of the accident. No flight plan had been filed, and there was no report of an ELT activation.

According to witnesses who had moored their boats near Patos Island, the pilot had been flying around the area of the island on the day before the accident. The maneuvers that he was executing were described as daring and unusual. One boater said that the pilot was performing "...either very talented or very stupid aerobatics in his floatplane above Active Cove and Patos Island." After the completion of his flight, the pilot moored his aircraft in Active Cove, and reportedly spent the night camping with friends who had come to Patos Island by boat.

The witnesses reported that on the morning of the accident, the pilot said that he was going to fly to Friday Harbor in order to take a shower. At the time of his departure, the winds were calm, and the sea was relatively flat, and from the point where he initiated his takeoff run, the pilot had a clear path to the north, west and south. The only obstructions to his takeoff were Patos Island and Little Patos Island to the east.

The relationship of these two islands to each other forms a east-west running cove, which is about 400 feet across. The west end of the cove passes into open water, but the east end is closed except for an approximately 50 foot wide channel, which runs 90 degrees to the centerline of the cove. Both of the islands have trees growing near the shoreline.

When the pilot initiated his takeoff run, he headed east into the "closed" end of Active Cove. By the time the aircraft lifted off, it was approaching the end of the cove, and was coming up to the 50 foot wide channel. The witnesses said that almost immediately after liftoff, the aircraft started a steep climbing turn to the right, in what appeared to them to be an attempt by the pilot to exit the cove by flying through the opening in the trees created by the channel.

During this turn, the airplane's right wing impacted the top of the eastern most tree on Little Patos Island, followed by the aircraft cartwheeling to the right, and impacting inverted on the sandstone shoreline. Although the initial impact was above the waterline, the aircraft skidded about 100 feet along the shore, slid into the water, and came to a stop with the fuselage submerged. Witnesses reported that from the time the aircraft started its takeoff run until it impacted the shoreline, it sounded as if it was running at maximum power.

Immediately after the impact, two witnesses who had watched the takeoff from Patos Island rowed to the crash site in a dingy in order to render assistance. When they got to the aircraft, they found the pilot still seatbelted inside the submerged fuselage. They removed him from the aircraft and brought him to shore, where he was noted to have no visible signs of pulse or respiration. Once on shore these two individuals and another witness attempted to revive the pilot by administering CPR, but the pilot ultimately succumbed to his injuries.

PERSONNEL INFORMATION

According to the FAA Pilot Certification Branch, the pilot held a private pilot certificate with a single-engine land rating, but was not rated for single or multiengine seaplanes. At the time of his last medical, on March 11, 1994, the pilot had listed a total flying time of 2,412 hours.

METEOROLOGICAL INFORMATION

The 0900 PDT Surface Observation taken at Friday Harbor, which is located about 15 miles south of the accident site, showed an estimated ceiling of 7,000 feet broken, 15 miles visibility, temperature of 58 degrees Fahrenheit, calm winds, and a barometric pressure of 30.18 inches of mercury. According to individuals who witnessed the takeoff, and representatives of the Coast Guard who arrived on the scene within one-half hour of the accident, at the time of the takeoff, the sea around the cove was relatively flat and the winds were calm.

WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION

According to the San Juan County Sheriff's Office, and the on- scene Washington State Parks ranger, the aircraft's takeoff run was along a course of approximately 090 degrees magnetic. After liftoff, and while in its steep right climbing turn, its right wing impacted the top of the most easterly coniferous tree on Little Patos Island. Several branches approximately five to seven inches in diameter were clipped from the tree and spread along the beach southeast of the initial impact. The aircraft was then seen by witnesses to do a cartwheel type maneuver, impacting the sandstone shoreline on the southeast side of Little Patos Island. The aircraft impacted the shoreline about 400 feet from the collision with the tree. The magnetic heading from the point of collision with the tree to the impact with the shoreline was about 270 degrees. The aircraft skidded about 100 feet along the shore, just above the low tide water level, and then slid into the water with the cabin submerged.

Because of the pilot's long arrest record, and because the San Juan County Sheriff's Office felt that the pilot's flight to the island might have involved the transfer of illegal controlled substances, the NTSB did not take custody of the aircraft. The State Park Service turned the aircraft over to the San Juan County Sheriff in order for them to pursue possible criminal charges. The Sheriff's office had the aircraft towed to Orcas Island, where it was searched for evidence, and then released to the pilot's family. The aircraft was not inspected by the IIC, but individuals who had access to the aircraft were interviewed, and photographs were provided by the Sheriff's office.

Although more damage may have occurred during towing, State Park and Sheriff's employees reported the damage they observed prior to the salvage teams attempts to recover and tow the aircraft. According to these employees, all major components of the aircraft had remained together, but the right wing had folded back underneath the fuselage. In addition the fuselage had torn open, just aft of the rear seats, on all but the right side, and it was bent about 80 degrees to the right. The top and right side of the cabin suffered extensive impact damage, as did the front top of the engine compartment. The left wing was still in place, but it showed rearward crushing along its entire span. The tip of the wing was crushed back further than the root area, and the crush line was about 30 degrees to the wing spar. No flight control or engine mechanical continuity checks were performed.

MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION

An autopsy was performed by Skagit Pathology, Inc., P.S., and the manner of death was listed as accidental, with the cause of death being stated as extensive trauma with closed head injuries and subdural hematoma.

A forensic toxicology was performed by the FAA Toxicology and Accident Research Laboratory, and no carboxyhemoglobin or cyanide were detected in the blood. Vitreous fluid was tested for ethanol, and the results were negative.

During the same toxicology, screening was performed for both legal and illegal drugs and the following was found:

1. 0.015 ug/ml Tetrahydrocannabinol (Marihuana) was detected in the blood.

2. 0.012 ug/ml Tetrahydrocannabinol Carboxylic Acid (Marihuana) was detected in the blood.

3. 0.326 ug/ml Tetrahydrocannabinol Carboxylic Acid (Marihuana) was detected in the urine.

No other legal or illegal screened drugs were detected.

ADDITIONAL DATA AND INFORMATION

This aircraft was not insured, and therefore once the Sheriff's Office had completed their search of the airframe and the floats, the aircraft was released directly to the family of the pilot.

At no time during this investigation did the IIC take custody of the aircraft, and therefore no NTSB Form 6120.15 accompanies this report.

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