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N3540U accident description

Delaware map... Delaware list
Crash location 38.538611°N, 75.589722°W
Nearest city Laurel, DE
38.556504°N, 75.571314°W
1.6 miles away
Tail number N3540U
Accident date 05 Nov 2005
Aircraft type Cessna 172S
Additional details: None

NTSB Factual Report

On November 5, 2005, at 1807 eastern standard time, a Cessna 172S, N3540U, operated by Delaware Skyways LLC, was substantially damaged when it impacted a sign, a roadway embankment, and then a plowed field during takeoff from a farm field in Laurel, Delaware. The certificated airline transport pilot/owner sustained a minor injury. Night visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and no flight plan was filed for the positioning flight conducted under 14 CFR Part 91.

The pilot/owner was interviewed by telephone, and provided a written statement. The purpose of the flight was to recover the airplane from the field. Another pilot who had rented the airplane earlier in the day, inadvertently stopped the engine during flight, and successfully performed a forced landing "to a small open space behind a Laurel horse farm." The pilot was not injured, and the airplane was undamaged.

The pilot/owner stated that he, a flight instructor, and the director of maintenance responded to the field, inspected the airplane, and deemed it airworthy. A Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) aviation safety inspector also examined the airplane later in the day, and concurred it was airworthy.

The pilot/owner went on to describe the detailed performance planning that he and his company flight instructor completed before attempting the takeoff, and that both agreed "there was sufficient takeoff run and space available." He said that, based on his performance planning, he had selected a "no go" point along the takeoff path where the airplane should liftoff. The airplane was pushed to the "farthest back corner of the field aligned with the takeoff path," and engine start, run-up, and pre-takeoff checks appeared "normal."

The flaps were set at 10 degrees, the trim was set, and the nose of the airplane "was positioned above the horizon in accordance with correct soft field technique…" The airplane accelerated as expected, lifted off at the pre-selected point, and the pilot lowered the nose for acceleration. According to the pilot:

"As the aircraft climbed, passing laterally above and between all observed obstacles, I eased the nose down toward the horizon to begin level acceleration. Immediately, I sensed that the engine sound did not seem to indicate a normal RPM increase and the aircraft did not accelerate normally. In my judgment, it appeared that the best course of action was to immediately land straight ahead."

The pilot stated that the airplane bounced once, and came to rest 90 degrees to the takeoff path.

The flight instructor that responded with the pilot/owner to the site was interviewed by telephone. He agreed that the airplane was undamaged during the forced landing earlier in the day, and that the airplane was airworthy when the pilot\owner attempted the takeoff.

According to the flight instructor, "He was at full throttle the whole time. He pitched up, and never lowered the nose. He drug the tail the whole time. He was at full throttle and went up over a barn, hit a sign, went over the road, under the power lines, up an embankment, and down in the field." The flight instructor further stated that the airplane bounced in the field, struck the right wing, then impacted the ground in a nose-down attitude, and came to rest. The flight instructor said the engine was at full power the entire time, and that the engine stopped when the propeller struck the ground.

When asked if he had discussed and endorsed the pilot's plan for takeoff, he responded, "No. We all discussed it, but he's pig-headed, you can't tell him anything. The FAA inspector told him not to do it, but he said, 'It's my airplane, and it's airworthy. I'm taking off.' I told him that he could go the opposite way, or we could take the wings off and truck it out of there. From my perspective, he did the procedure completely wrong."

When asked to describe the engine sound, the flight instructor stated, "It was strong, real strong. There was no interruption, none whatsoever."

The director of maintenance, who inspected the airplane, witnessed the accident and recorded it on video. He said the engine was at full power, the nose was in the air, and the tail dragged the entire length of the field. The airplane lifted off, cleared a fence, struck a sign, went under the power lines, struck an embankment, bounced in the air, touched down, struck the nose and the wing, and came to rest. He said the engine ran continuously at full power until the propeller struck the ground and stopped the engine.

A review of the video revealed that only the airplane lights could be seen due to the dark night conditions. The audio portion revealed continuous engine sound consistent with high power, and no interruptions in the sound were identified.

According to the FAA inspector, the airplane was examined in the field prior to the attempted departure, and found to be airworthy. He asked the mechanic to log an entry to that effect in the airplane's logbook at the completion of his inspection. The inspector stated that he strongly urged the pilot/owner not to attempt the takeoff from the field, especially at night.

The inspector was notified of the accident after he had left the field, and returned to the site. When he approached the pilot, who was seated in the back of an ambulance, the pilot stated, "It was poor short field technique."

The airplane was manufactured in 2001, and had accrued 2,551 total flight hours. The airplane was on a manufacturers continuous airworthiness program, and its most recent inspection was in November 2005, at 2,549 hours.

On January 4, 2006 a Safety Board investigator examined the airplane at an aircraft recovery facility in Delaware. The wings had been removed during recovery from the crash site, so a fuel can was plumbed into the fuel system. The engine started immediately, accelerated smoothly, and ran continuously at 2,700 rpm without interruption.

The pilot held an airline transport pilot certificate, with ratings for airplane single engine land, multi-engine land, and rotorcraft-helicopter. His most recent FAA first class medical certificate was issued on May 25, 2005.

The pilot reported 11,893 hours of total flight experience, 593 hours of which were in make and model. He reported 2,454 hours of night flying experience.

When asked why he attempted such a takeoff at night, the pilot/owner stated that it was before civil twilight, and that he had a visible horizon. He later reported that the accident occurred at 1710.

According to the Delaware state police, the 911 call received at the time of the accident was logged at 1807.

At 1754, the weather reported at Salisbury-Ocean City Wicomico Regional Airport, Salisbury, Maryland, 13 miles south included clear skies and 9 miles of visibility with calm winds. The temperature was 57 degrees Fahrenheit and the dew point was 54 degrees Fahrenheit.

According to the United States Naval Observatory, official sunset on the day of the accident was at 1658, and the end of civil twilight was at 1726, 41 minutes prior to the accident.

NTSB Probable Cause

The pilot's improper decision to takeoff from an unimproved field, and his subsequent failure to abort the takeoff prior to collision with a sign and an embankment. Factors in the accident were his improper soft field technique, and the dark night conditions.

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