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N174LL accident description

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Crash location 21.230556°N, 157.185555°W
Nearest city Open Water, HI
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Tail number N174LL
Accident date 30 Dec 2016
Aircraft type Cessna 172M
Additional details: None

NTSB Factual Report

On December 30, 2016, about 1849 Hawaiian standard time, a Cessna 172M, N174LL, impacted water near Molokai Airport (PHMK), Kaunakakai, Hawaii en route to the Honolulu Airport (HNL), Honolulu, Hawaii. Since that time, the private pilot and two passengers have not been located, and the airplane is missing. The airplane disappeared from Air Traffic Control radar after takeoff and is presumed to have crashed in the Pacific Ocean. The airplane was registered to Yamataka Kumiko and operated by Lani Lea Sky Tours, LLC under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 as a personal flight. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and a visual flight rules flight plan was filed for the cross-country flight that departed PHMK at 1843.

A representative of the airplane rental facility reported that the pilot had rented one of their airplanes and departed HNL a few hours earlier on a recreational flight to PHMK. At the time of the accident, the flight was returning to HNL. According to Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) ATC radar data, shortly after the airplane's departure from PHMK it immediately started a shallow climb to the northwest. At 1848:28, the airplane began a descending right turn from a Mode C reported altitude of approximately 2,525 feet msl. The radar track ended at 1849:04, over open water approximately 1.5 nautical miles (nm) from the coast and about 7 nm northwest of PHMK.

On December 30, at 1913, the FAA issued an alert notice (ALNOT) for the missing airplane after FAA Air Traffic Control (ATC) lost radar contact with the airplane.

A search and rescue effort, conducted by the United States Coast Guard, began immediately after the missing airplane report was issued, but was subsequently suspended on January 2, 2017. To date, the missing airplane has not been located, and no emergency locator transmitter (ELT) signal was received during the search and rescue activities. Additionally, attempts to locate a signal from the pilot's cell phone utilizing network-based location analysis were unsuccessful.

The pilot, age 26, held a private pilot certificate with a rating for airplane single-engine land, which was issued on October 30, 2016. His most recent first-class medical certificate was issued on March 5, 2014, at which time he reported 1 total hour of flight experience. The pilot's FAA application for airman certificate indicated that he had accumulated a total of 73 flight hours, 4 instrument hours, and 14 hours of which were under the category "Night Take-Off/Landing." His personal flight logbook was not recovered.

According to an employee of the airplane rental facility, who also served as the pilot's flight instructor during his private pilot certificate training, the pilot reserved the accident airplane for the morning of the accident flight. Additionally, he asked if there were any "special instructions" related to the temporary flight restriction (TFR) that was active in the area. The airplane rental facility representative directed him to the instructions provided by the TFR. The following morning, the pilot sent a text message to the rental facility representative to cancel his reservation due to weather conditions, and that he would advise her if he planned to reschedule. At 1340, the pilot rescheduled his reservation to 1700, and requested life vests. After the rental facility representative reported to the pilot that he could use the airplane at approximately 1500, the pilot stated that he would "head right down." At 1515, the pilot and his girlfriend, a passenger on the accident flight, arrived at the rental facility. Again, the pilot requested instructions related to the TFR procedures from the flight school representative. The representative offered some basic requirements of the TFR contained within the NOTAMS including flight plan, radio contact, and the use of transponder codes. He subsequently filed a flight plan over the telephone with a weather briefer. A third passenger then entered the airplane rental facility and the representative retrieved an additional life vest as she was not aware of the additional passenger. At 1545, the pilot completed a preflight inspection of the airplane, and subsequently departed on their flight to PHMK.

At 1810, the pilot text messaged the airplane rental facility representative to report that they had landed "15 minutes prior." The representative interpreted the message to mean that the pilot had returned as his reservation ended at 1800. After a subsequent text message, the pilot confirmed that he was still at PHMK. She then called the pilot to refer him to a friend of hers who lived in the area that he could stay with if he was not night current. The pilot told her that he would "think about it." After their telephone conversation, the representative received a phone call from a friend who reported that Honolulu Control Facility was looking for N174LL.

A review of FAA records revealed that the airplane was manufactured in 1973 and registered to the owner on October 21, 2015. The airplane was powered by a Lycoming O-320-E2D, a normally-aspirated, direct drive, air cooled, 150 horsepower engine. The airplane owner reported that the airplane's most recent annual inspection was completed on December 28, 2016, at which time it had accumulated 10,131.5 total flight hours. At the time of the accident, the engine had accrued 815 total flight hours since the airplane's most recent overhaul. The airplane was equipped with a TSO 126 ELT, manufactured by Wulfsberg Electronics.

According to an NTSB weather study, the pilot requested multiple weather briefings from Lockheed Martin Flight Services (LMFS). He initially contacted LMFS at 1617 before he departed HNL for PHMK, but declined to receive adverse weather conditions. During his subsequent call to LMFS at 1708, the briefer discussed an AIRMET Sierra that was valid along his intended route of flight. The pilot contacted LMFS again at 1820 after he arrived at PHMK, at which time the briefer referenced AIRMET Sierra again. Additionally, the pilot received text weather briefing information at 1822 from LMFS that included an AIRMET Sierra that was still valid along his route of flight, METAR information for PHMK and HNL, TAF data for both airports, the area forecast, and winds aloft information.

An automated surface observing system (ASOS) report at PHMK (elevation 453 feet, 7 miles east-southeast of the airport) was issued 11 minutes before the pilot's departure time. It recorded wind from 010 at 11 knots with 19 knot gusts, 6 miles visibility, light rain, few clouds 900 feet, broken ceiling at 1,600 feet, an overcast ceiling at 5,500 feet, temperature 19°C, dewpoint 18°C, and an altimeter setting of 29.95 inches of mercury.

At 1854, an ASOS report from PHMK was issued, which recorded wind from 030 at 12 knots with 18 knot gusts, 6 miles visibility, light rain, mist, scattered clouds 900 feet, an overcast ceiling at 1,600 feet, temperature 19°C, dewpoint 18°C, and an altimeter setting of 29.95 inches of mercury.

Two AIRMETs for mountain obscuration that were valid at the time of the accident were issued at 1713 and 1845. The 1713 AIRMET reported mountain obscuration conditions on the north through east side of Molokai Island, and the 1845 AIRMET advised of temporary mountain obscuration above 2,000 feet due to clouds and heavy rain showers on the north through east side of Molokai Island.

An area forecast issued at 1714, which was valid at the time of the accident, forecasted few clouds above 1,000 feet mean sea level, scattered clouds at 2,000 feet, with a broken to overcast ceiling at 3,000 feet, tops at 10,000 feet, and light rain showers. The forecast reported temporary conditions with broken ceilings at 2,000 feet with tops to 12,000 feet, and visibilities between 3 and 5 miles with moderate rain showers. The area forecast further reported isolated conditions with broken ceilings at 1,500 feet with tops to 15,000 feet, and visibilities below 3 miles in heavy rain showers.

NTSB Probable Cause

Undetermined because the airplane was not located.

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