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N117BB accident description

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Crash location 42.454722°N, 71.733333°W
Nearest city Sterling, MA
42.433425°N, 71.782849°W
2.9 miles away
Tail number N117BB
Accident date 01 Jan 2002
Aircraft type Let L-23
Additional details: None

NTSB Factual Report

On January 1, 2002, about 1458 eastern standard time, a LET L-23 glider, N117BB, was substantially damaged during a forced landing near the Sterling Airport, Sterling, Massachusetts. The student pilot was not injured. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and no flight plan was filed for the instructional flight conducted under 14 CFR Part 91.

According to the student pilot, the accident flight was the second flight of the day, which was conducted solo.

The first flight was about 3-1/2 hours earlier, and was conducted with an instructor. The student added that it was windy on the flight, and she had no plans to solo due to the wind conditions. When the flight instructor asked her if she wanted to fly again, she said yes, assuming the flight would be conducted as dual instruction. When the student realized that the flight would be conducted solo, she replied that she did not want to go solo, and that it was still too rough. After the flight instructor reassured her that the pervious dual flight had been good, the student climbed into the glider alone.

On the solo flight, as the glider was towed behind a tow plane, the student observed that the wind was blowing down the favored runway, runway 34. During the tow to altitude, the conditions were rough, with the towline going slack, and then tight, requiring the student to make corrections more often then she had done in the past. As the glider approached 2,500 feet, the towline was released and the student began to practice maneuvers. During the maneuvers, the student stated that she hit her head twice on the canopy due to the turbulent conditions. About 12 minutes into the flight, the student decided to return to the airport. She entered the traffic pattern, on the downwind leg, at 1,500 feet, but further out from the runway than she normally would have flown. While on the downwind leg, the student checked the operation of the airbrake and kept her hand on it as she had been taught. As the glider was turned on to the base leg, the student realized that she would not make the runway and elected to perform a forced landing to a two-lane highway. The glider touched down on the southbound lane of the elevated roadway and impacted a metal guardrail, coming to rest upright on the highway.

The student additionally stated that she might have been moving the speed brake handle inadvertently during the approach due to the turbulence.

The student reported she had accumulated about 13 hours of dual instruction, with 7 or 8 different flight instructors, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Soaring Club. She also accumulated about 1.4 hours of solo time. All of her previous flights had been conducted on days with light or calm wind conditions, with some crosswind landings.

The recorded weather at a nearby airport, about the time of the accident, included winds from 250 degrees at 13 knots, gusts to 22 knots.

NTSB Probable Cause

The student pilots inadequate compensation for wind conditions which resulted in an off-field landing, and the CFI's improper decision to allow the student to fly solo. Factors related to the accident were the gusting wind conditions, and the students lack of total experience in gliders.

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