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N5761K accident description

Maryland map... Maryland list
Crash location 39.651667°N, 77.971945°W
Nearest city Clear Spring, MD
39.656206°N, 77.931665°W
2.2 miles away
Tail number N5761K
Accident date 26 Jul 2002
Aircraft type Beech S-35
Additional details: None

NTSB Factual Report


On July 26, 2002, at 1132 eastern daylight time, a Beech S-35, N5761K, was destroyed when it collided with terrain near Clear Spring, Maryland. The certificated private pilot was fatally injured. The flight departed Hagerstown Regional Airport (HGR), Hagerstown, Maryland, destined for Lovell Field (CHA), Chattanooga, Tennessee. Instrument meteorological conditions (IMC) prevailed at the time, and a visual flight rules (VFR) flight plan was filed for the personal flight conducted under 14 CFR Part 91.

According to Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) air traffic control information, the airplane first departed Hagerstown Airport, VFR, for Chattanooga, about 1000. About 15 minutes later, the pilot contacted Hagerstown Tower and reported that he was south of the airport. The pilot said he was returning to the airport because he "could not maintain VFR."

The airplane subsequently landed at Hagerstown Airport without incident.

The pilot had activated his flight plan with the Elkins Flight Service Station (FSS) after departure by radio, and closed the flight plan by telephone after he landed. While on the telephone with an FSS specialist, the pilot received an abbreviated weather briefing and stated that he would attempt the same flight later in the day.

At 1121, the airplane departed Hagerstown Airport, VFR, for the second time. At 1123, the tower controller issued the pilot a frequency change to Washington Air Route Traffic Control Center (ARTCC).

At 1124, the pilot contacted a Washington ARTCC controller and requested VFR flight following. The controller suggested that the pilot land, and file an instrument flight rules (IFR) flight plan.

During a telephone interview subsequent to the accident, a tower controller at Hagerstown stated that he had seen a VFR target on his radar screen, about 15 miles southwest of the airport, in level flight at 1,000 feet, about the time of the accident. He was surprised because it placed the target only 300 feet above the airport elevation. The controller called another controller's attention to the target, but the target then disappeared from the radar screen.

The tower controller also stated that there was no further contact with the pilot after he issued the frequency change.

Several witnesses around Fairview Mountain, located about 12 miles southwest of Hagerstown Airport, reported they heard an airplane fly overhead, then heard the sound of a crash. Some witnesses saw the airplane appear briefly out of the clouds, then re-enter the clouds seconds before striking the mountain.

During a telephone interview, one witness stated that he had just arrived at a construction site on Fairview Mountain when he saw the airplane appear out of the clouds about 100 feet above the ground. He further stated:

"The instant loudness is what got our attention. It was instantaneous. I mean, it was loud right now, and he blew right over our heads. As soon as he passed over our heads we heard the limbs smacking, and he was into the tops of the trees. It acted like he had enough momentum to keep going, but not enough to go up."

When asked about the sound of the airplane's engine, the witness said the engine was sputtering. He also said:

"It sounded like a car engine not hitting on all cylinders. It was extremely loud, and at the same rpm the whole time."

A second witness at the construction site also described the airplane as "just appearing" out of the fog, and passing low over their heads. The landing gear was retracted, and the belly of the airplane brushed the top of a large oak tree. When asked to describe the sound of the engine, the witness said, "It wasn't super fast, it was like he was just motoring along."

A third witness was inside a mobile home when he heard an airplane pass low overhead. He said that only seconds elapsed before he heard an explosion that shook the home. When asked to describe the sound of the engine, he said it was running and that the engine sounded "normal".

Another witness in the mobile home also described hearing an airplane pass overhead, then the sound of the crash. He said the sound of the engine was smooth and without interruption.

The accident occurred during daylight hours, in the vicinity of 39 degrees, 39 minutes, 06 seconds north latitude, 77 degrees, 58 minutes 19 seconds east longitude.


The pilot held a private pilot certificate with ratings for airplane single engine land, multi-engine land, single engine sea, and instrument airplane. The pilot's most recent third class medical certificate was issued August 18, 2001. The pilot reported 11,550 hours of flight experience on that date.


At 1153, the weather reported at Hagerstown Airport, at an elevation of 703 feet, included winds from 170 degrees at 6 knots. There was a scattered cloud layer at 1,200 feet, and an overcast cloud layer at 1,300 feet. The temperature was 66 degrees Fahrenheit, and the dew point was 63 degrees Fahrenheit.

During a telephone interview, a tower controller at Hagerstown stated that while VFR conditions were reported at the field, clouds obscured the mountains surrounding the airport.

At 1153, at Eastern West Virginia Regional Airport (MRB), Martinsburg, West Virginia, at an elevation of 557 feet, approximately 22 miles southwest of Hagerstown, the ceiling was 600 feet overcast. The temperature was 64 degrees Fahrenheit and the dew point was 64 degrees Fahrenheit.

When the witnesses were asked to describe the weather at the time of the accident, they all mentioned rain and dense fog. Visibility estimates from the witnesses ranged from 50 feet to 150 feet. One witness, who climbed the mountain in search of the wreckage, stated, "The fog was so bad, we walked right by the plane and didn't see it."

The peak elevation of Fairview Mountain was 1,690 feet above mean sea level. A television tower stood near the peak of the mountain, and was staffed by an engineer full time. The pilot-rated engineer did not hear or see the accident, but prepared a written statement regarding the weather conditions at the mountain on the day of the accident. According to the engineer:

"The weather conditions on and around Fairview Mountain...were IFR due to low clouds. In driving to work this morning, clouds obscured the top of the mountain and I could not see my workplace located there. This is the...television transmitter site with a tower base elevation of 1,462 feet [msl]."

The engineer also stated that the conditions remained the same all day, and that a second tower, about 75 feet from his office, was often obscured from his view by clouds.


An autopsy was performed on the pilot by the Chief Medical Examiner State of Maryland, Baltimore, Maryland.

Toxicological testing was performed by the FAA Toxicology Accident Research Laboratory, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.


The wreckage was examined at the site, on the day of the accident, and all major components were accounted for at the scene. The airplane impacted heavily wooded terrain, on an upslope of about 40 degrees. The wreckage path was oriented about 070 degrees magnetic, and was approximately 250 feet long. The wreckage path was divided into 1-foot increments labeled wreckage points (WP).

The trees along the wreckage path from the initial impact point to the main wreckage were all broken off at the same approximate elevation, about 1,230 feet msl.

The initial impact point was in a treetop about 90 feet above the ground, and designated WP zero. Fragments of wing, fairing, airplane skin, as well as several pieces of angularly-cut wood were found along the wreckage path.

A portion of the right aileron was located near the initial impact point at the base of the tree at WP zero. The right main landing gear was found at WP 109. The center section of the right wing was found at WP 184. The main wreckage was located at WP 217. The left main landing gear was located in the remains of the left wing, which was entangled in the main wreckage. The engine compartment, cockpit, cabin area, and empennage were destroyed by impact and consumed by post-crash fire. The "V" tail came to rest inverted, and about 4 feet of the empennage forward of the tail was recognizable.

The engine was found upslope and just beyond the main wreckage. The three left-hand cylinders (2, 4 and 6) were separated by impact. Fragments of the cylinder heads, valves, and valve springs were found scattered in the ashes beneath the wreckage.

The engine case was destroyed by impact and fire. The engine could not be rotated, but examination through openings in the case revealed that the crankshaft, counterweights, connecting rods, internal gears, and the camshaft were intact.

The fuel pump, fuel control, starter, and both magnetos were separated from the engine. The oil sump was melted. Examination of the fuel control screen revealed that it was clean, and absent of debris. The fuel pump drive was intact. The vacuum pump rotor, vanes, and internal steel sleeve were recovered, and the rotor was rotated by hand. The external housing and components were consumed by fire.

The top spark plugs from the number 1, 3, and 5 cylinders were subsequently removed from the cylinders. Examination revealed that the electrodes were intact, and light tan and gray in color.

Both propeller blades were separated from the hub, and the blade attach points in the hub were fractured opposite the direction of rotation. One blade was fractured near the root, and also at the tip. The blade root was found upslope, just beyond the main wreckage, and blade fragments were recovered throughout the site and matched to the fractured blade.

The other blade was found at WP250, 39 feet beyond the main wreckage, and about 20 feet left of the centerline of the wreckage path. The tip of the blade was curled and broken. Both blades and their fragments displayed similar twisting, bending, and deep chordwise gouging.

Flight control continuity could not be established to all flight control surfaces. Control cable continuity was established from the ruddervators to the cockpit area. The cables were intact from the forward cable ends to the mixer assembly. The control rods at the mixer assembly were fractured by impact. Control continuity was established from the fractures to the ruddervators.

Control cable continuity for the right aileron could not be established due to destruction of the airframe and cable by impact and fire. The cable ends were located, and at least four breaks in the cable were identified. Each break was 'broomstrawed'.

Control cable continuity could not be established for the left aileron cable. Cable segments were recovered, and the breaks at each end were 'broomstrawed'. The cable ends were not recovered.

Control cable continuity could not be established for the aileron balance cable. The cable ends were not recovered, however the breaks at the outboard tips were 'broomstrawed'. An angular break in the cable was noted, and the cable on either side of the break was examined at the Safety Board Materials Laboratory in Washington, DC. Examination of the break revealed signatures consistent with impact and subsequent overload. The damaged and overloaded fracture surfaces were also damaged by fire.


During a telephone interview, the airplane's owner stated that the pilot's ultimate destination was his home in Florida. The airplane's owner said that the pilot was well acquainted with the airplane, as the pilot was its previous owner. The owner also noted that the airplane was equipped with a full array of flight information publications. The pilot had current VFR charts, IFR charts, and instrument approach procedure charts on board. However, about 2 years previously, the pilot had stated:

"I'm not flying anymore [at] night, and I'm not flying anymore IFR."

The owner reported to the FAA that an annual inspection of the airplane was completed in April 2002, and that the airplane was certified for IFR operation in May 2002. He said that an IFR-certified GPS was installed in the airplane.

On July 27, 2002, the wreckage was released, and acknowledged by an employee at the transmitter site.

NTSB Probable Cause

The pilot's continued visual flight into instrument meteorological conditions, which resulted in an in-flight collision with rising terrain. Factors included dense fog and mountainous terrain.

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