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N96273 accident description

Massachusetts map... Massachusetts list
Crash location Unknown
Nearest city Leominster, MA
42.525091°N, 71.759794°W
Tail number N96273
Accident date 22 Dec 1999
Aircraft type Cessna 172P
Additional details: None

NTSB Factual Report


On December 22, 1999, about 1450 Eastern Standard Time, a Cessna 172P, N96273, and a Cessna 172R, N672DW, were destroyed after they collided during a visual flight rules approach to Fitchburg Municipal Airport (FIT), Fitchburg, Massachusetts, and impacted terrain in Leominster, Massachusetts. The certificated private pilot in the Cessna 172P was fatally injured, and the certificated student pilot in the Cessna 172R was seriously injured. The private pilot had been conducting landings in a left traffic pattern, while the student pilot had been inbound on an instructional solo flight from Boire Field (ASH), Nashua, New Hampshire. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed at the time of the accident. Neither pilot had filed a flight plan for the flights, conducted under 14 CFR Part 91.

According to several witnesses, the airplanes were on a parallel course during the final approach segment to the airport, when the student pilot's airplane overtook the private pilot's airplane, and struck it on its right side. The two airplanes locked together, then made a slow turn while descending rapidly to the ground.

The accident occurred during the hours of daylight, in the vicinity of 42 degrees, 32.83 minutes north latitude, 71 degrees, 44.81 minutes west longitude


The Cessna 172P pilot held a private pilot certificate with a rating for single engine land airplanes. According to his logbook, he had about 190 hours of flight time, and had flown into Fitchburg Airport 14 times during 1999. His latest third class medical certificate was issued on August 15, 1997.

The Cessna 172R pilot held a student pilot certificate. He had about 45 hours of flight time; and was on his second solo, and third flight overall, into Fitchburg. His latest second class medical certificate was issued on December 30, 1998.


At the approximate time of the accident, sky conditions were clear, with a visibility of 10 statute miles. Winds were reported as being from 280 degrees true at 5 knots.

A sun position calculation, utilizing the time of the accident, the latitude and longitude of the accident site, and an estimated altitude of 1,000 feet above mean sea level, indicated that the sun was located about 12 degrees above the horizon, 237 degrees magnetic, from the approximate collision position.


Fitchburg Municipal Airport did not have an operating control tower. Aircraft communicated on a Common Traffic Advisory Frequency (CTAF)/UNICOM frequency of 122.7 mhz. Turns in the traffic pattern were to the left.


The wreckage was located in the backyard of a private residence. The site was about 2,000 feet from the approach end of Runway 32, and about 100 feet to the right of the extended runway centerline. Several branches from a nearby tree were broken along a path that led to the wreckage, at a descent angle of about 70 degrees. The airplanes were found in an upright position, still locked together, and oriented about a 165-degree magnetic heading. The student pilot's airplane overlapped the private pilot's airplane. The nose sections of the two airplanes were approximately parallel, while the tail sections opened to about a 120-degree angle. The left landing gear strut of the student pilot's airplane was embedded in the right side of the private pilot's airplane, in the fuselage, below the aft-most edge of the rear window. There was a 12-foot gash completely through the right wing of the private pilot's airplane, measured from the wing root, outward. At the wing root, the gash was about 2 1/2 feet from the wing's leading edge, while at the outboard end, the gash was about 1 foot from the wing's leading edge.

All flight control surfaces from both airplanes were present at the accident site. Control continuity was established in both airplanes, with the exception that the cross-over aileron control cable from the private pilot's airplane was separated at a turnbuckle. The other end of the cable exhibited a frayed, broomstraw appearance. Flap jackscrew positions of both airplanes correlated to a 30-degree flap setting.

The engine from the private pilot's airplane could not be rotated due to propeller shaft bending. Spark plugs were dark gray in color. One propeller blade was bent forward, while the other exhibited s-bending.

The engine from the student pilot's airplane was partially rotated, and crankshaft continuity was established. Spark plugs were light gray in color. The propeller blades exhibited leading edge-aft scraping, and nicks.


An autopsy was performed on the private pilot's remains by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, Boston, Massachusetts. Toxicological testing was performed by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Toxicology and Accident Research Laboratory, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, and was negative for carbon monoxide, cyanide, ethanol, and legal and illegal drugs.


An FAA Inspector visited the student pilot in the hospital twice. The first time, the pilot "was heavily drugged and clearly did not have good recall of the accident event." During the second visit, the student pilot stated that he "didn't remember any of the events at all." He did state, however, that during the flight, he had had his sun glasses with him, but was not wearing them. He further stated that they were dark, and that he only wore them when landing or taking off directly into the sun.

A flight instructor, who landed at Fitchburg around the time of the accident, stated that his airplane had entered the traffic pattern while the private pilot's airplane was completing a touch and go. When the instructor's airplane was about 3/4 of the way through its base leg, about to turn onto final, the instructor heard the student pilot call that he was 4 miles to the north-northeast, at 2,200 feet, inbound to Runway 32. "Pretty much right after" that, the private pilot called that he was on the downwind leg.

In a subsequent interview, the flight instructor stated that he didn't think there were any more radio calls made by the pilot of either airplane, but he wasn't sure because he had landed and wasn't then paying attention to what was happening in the traffic pattern. He further stated that the calls were made during the same landing circuit as when the accident occurred.

The student pilot's airplane was owned by Daniel Webster College, of Nashua, New Hampshire. The manager of Fitchburg Municipal Airport, and the owner/operator of the private pilot's airplane both provided statements, that pilots from Daniel Webster had, at times, entered a right landing pattern at Fitchburg. In a separate statement, the flight instructor who was in the landing pattern around the time of the accident wrote that the same Daniel Webster accident airplane had entered a right landing pattern at Fitchburg, earlier on the day of the accident.

In the student's training records, on his pre-solo written examination, there was a question which asked: "What is the standard direction of all turns for an airplane approaching to land at an airport without a control tower? Are there any exceptions?" In response, the pilot wrote: "The standard direction of all turns is left, the only expectation is that you let other traffic know your position in the pattern."

According to 49 CFR Part 91, paragraph 91.126:

"(a) General. Unless otherwise authorized or required, each person operating an aircraft on or in the vicinity of an airport in a Class G airspace area must comply with the requirements of this section.

(b) Direction of turns. When approaching to land at an airport without an operating control tower in Class G airspace - (1) Each pilot of an airplane must make all turns to the left unless the airport displays approved light signals or visual markings indicating that turns should be made to the right...."

According to the Airman's Information Manual, paragraph 4-1-9,

"There is no substitute for alertness while in the vicinity of an airport. It is essential that pilots be alert and look for other traffic and exchange traffic information when approaching or departing an airport without an operating control tower. This is of particular importance since other aircraft may not have communication capability or, in some cases, pilots may not communicate their presence or intentions when operating into or out of such airports."

The paragraph further recommended that inbound aircraft operating on a UNICOM frequency make broadcasts 10 miles out, entering downwind, base, final, and leaving the runway.

The wreckage of the private pilot's airplane was released to a representative of Ryan Insurance Services, Inc., Biddeford, Maine. The wreckage of the student pilot's airplane was released to a representative of Phoenix Aviation Managers, Downingtown, Pennsylvania.

NTSB Probable Cause

The student pilot's failure to see and avoid the private pilot's airplane. Factors included the student pilot's non-standard traffic pattern entry, the private pilot's failure to check for other traffic before turning onto final, and the position of the sun at the time of the accident.

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