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N737CJ accident description

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Crash location Unknown
Nearest city Sussex, NJ
41.209818°N, 74.607661°W

Tail number N737CJ
Accident date 29 Aug 1999
Aircraft type Cessna 172N
Additional details: None

NTSB description


On August 29, 1999, about 1850 Eastern Daylight Time, a Cessna 172N, N737CJ, was substantially damaged when it impacted trees during the initial climb after takeoff from the Sussex Airport (FWN), Sussex, New Jersey. The certified flight instructor (CFI) seated in the right front seat, a student pilot, seated in the left front seat, and a rear seated passenger, were fatally injured. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed and no flight plan had been filed for the flight that departed after the 27th Annual Sussex Airport Airshow, had concluded. The flight was conducted under 14 CFR Part 91 and destined for Republic Airport, Farmingdale, New York.

According to interviews, the "Warbirds" which were flying just prior to the end of the airshow were using Runway 3 for takeoff. After the airshow had concluded, several airplanes began to taxi to Runway 3 for takeoff; however, some pilots reported that someone stated over the Unicom frequency that "Runway two-one, will be used for departures, this is the FAA," and the pilots then taxied to Runway 21. The airshow was attended by Federal Aviation Administration Inspectors from the Allentown Flight Standards District Office; however, the inspectors stated that they departed the airport about 10 to 15 minutes before the accident, and at no time did any of them make an announcement over the airport's Unicom frequency.

Runway 21 was a 3,499 foot long, asphalt runway

A pilot waiting for takeoff from Runway 21 stated that the wind sock was favoring Runway 3, and was blowing "straight down" the runway, he estimated the gusts were "at least a good 15 knots." He stated that the airplanes he observed takeoff were having a difficult time climbing and were "really close" to the trees located off the departure end of the runway. Additionally, he stated that he departed Runway 21, in a Cherokee Six-260, and "just missed" the trees off the departure end of the runway.

Another pilot waiting to depart Runway 21 stated that the winds were "strong" and favoring Runway 3. He added that he observed several airplanes depart Runway 21. The airplanes were using three-quarters of the runway before lifting off and were "struggling to climb."

A third pilot stated that he did not depart Runway 21 because of the tailwind condition, and he elected to wait until he could depart Runway 3.

The accident airplane departed Runway 21. A commercial pilot standing at the end of the runway, observed the accident airplane when it was about 30 feet above the ground. The airplane climbed at a 30 degree nose up attitude, and "mushed" into the tops of the trees located beyond the departure end of the runway. The airplane then "flipped" forward, and descended toward the ground. He could hear the airplane's engine, and it sounded "like it was producing full power." He did not hear any fluctuations in engine noise. He further stated that it was "really windy," and the wind sock was indicating a direct tailwind, with an occasional crosswind gust. He estimated the winds were about 20 knots. "Every airplane was having trouble taking off, even some of the higher performance models" and several airplanes were "very close" to the trees.

The accident occurred during the hours of daylight approximately 41 degrees, 11.6 minutes north latitude, and 74 degrees, 37.5 minutes west longitude.


The CFI held a commercial pilot certificate with ratings for airplane single engine land, and instrument airplane. He also held a flight instructor certificate for airplane single engine land.

The CFI's logbook was not recovered; however, the logbooks of the two occupants revealed that the CFI provided about 34 hours of flight instruction to the rear seated passenger during 23 flights between April 26, and August 23, 1999; and 3.7 hours of total flight instruction to the student pilot during two flights that occurred on August 15 and 21, 1999. The CFI reported 3,244 total hours of flight experience on his last application for a Federal Aviation Administration Second Class Medical Certificate, which was issued on December 4, 1999.

Additional examination of the student pilot's logbook revealed she had accumulated 37.6 hours of total flight experience, all logged as "dual received."


The airplane's owner stated he purchased the airplane on August 2, 1999. The airplane was then leased to the operator, Air Transport Corp., Port Jefferson Station, New York, commencing on August 18, 1999.

According to the airplane's maintenance records, the airplane's most recent annual inspection was performed on March 26, 1999; however, a 100 hour inspection was performed on August 2, 1999. The airplane had been operated for about 20 hours since it was purchased by the owner.


The Sussex airport did not have recorded weather information.

The winds reported at an airport about 38 miles southeast of the accident site, at 1851, were from 340 degrees at 10 knots, with 19 knot gusts.

Several persons interviewed who were at FWN at the time of the accident indicated that the winds were predominately from the north-northeast. An individual who lived on a hill about 1/4 mile from the airport stated that about 15 minutes prior to the accident, the winds started to "swirl" and were "unusually strong and violent" at the time of the accident.

Additionally, using recorded weather observations at nearby airports, the density altitude at the FWN was calculated to be about 1,800 feet.


Examination of the accident site revealed a group of three, 60 to 75 foot tall trees, were located between 200 and 300 feet beyond the departure end of Runway 21. The airplane struck the tops of the trees, and then impacted in a field. The airplane came to rest about 555 feet from the departure end of the runway.

Examination of the wreckage revealed all major components of the airplane were accounted for at the accident site. The airplane came to rest inverted, with it's tail section, aft of the cabin area, folded downward, and on top of the underside of the cabin. The first visible ground scar was observed 92 feet from the main wreckage, and contained the airplane's propeller. The airplane's nose gear, engine, instrument panel, right horizontal stabilizer, and engine cowling, were separated from the airframe and located along the debris path, which was oriented on a magnetic course of 200 degrees.

Several broken tree branches were found strewn along the debris path. Additionally, a broken tree branch which measured 4 inches in diameter, and about 6 feet long, was found near the base of the initial tree strike. The tree branch contained scrape marks with white paint transfer.

Flight control continuity was confirmed from the cockpit area to all primary control surfaces. The right horizontal stabilizer was located 24 feet from the main wreckage, and contained a leading edge impact mark, located about 3 feet from the outer tip. The impact area had been compressed aft, and up, to a point within 1 foot of the rear spar. Additionally, a tree branch was lodged between the elevator and horizontal stabilizer. Both the left and right wings contained symmetrical leading edge damage, in an aft direction.

The propeller was separated from the crankshaft, at a 45 degree angle, aft of the propeller mounting flange. The propeller blades were bent back slightly. The blades contained chordwise scratches and leading edge gouging.

The engine was removed from the accident site, and examined in a hanger at FWN. The portion of the crankshaft where the propeller separated was bent downward into the crankcase, and the engine could be rotated only about 100 degrees. Within the 100 degrees of rotation, valve train continuity was noted on the number one, and number three cylinder intake valves, and the number three and number two cylinder exhaust valves. The remaining valves were depressed with a "valve depressor tool," and there were no discrepancies noted. All spark plugs were removed, with the exception of the number one and four cylinder bottom spark plugs, which sustained impact damaged. The spark plug electrodes were intact, and slightly dark gray in color. The engine's dual magneto was removed, and produced spark on all towers when rotated by hand. The bottom half of the carburetor was separated and found near the main wreckage. The top half remained attached to the engine. Additionally, the fuel inlet, and oil suction screens were removed and absent of debris.


Autopsies were performed on the pilot and passengers, on August 29 and 30, 1999, by the Sussex County Medical Examiners Office, Sussex, New Jersey.

The toxicological testing report from the FAA Toxicology Accident Research Laboratory, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, was negative for drugs and alcohol for the pilot.


The Sussex Airport was an uncontrolled airport and it did not have an air traffic control tower.


Airplane Performance

According to the airplane's operating handbook, the required distance to takeoff and clear a 50-foot obstacle at a takeoff weight of 2,300 lbs., in a "zero wind" condition was 1,540 feet. The chart included the note: "For operation with tailwinds up to 10 knots, increase distances by 10 percent for each 2 knots." There were no provisions in the chart to calculate takeoff distances with tailwinds greater than 10 knots.

Wreckage Release

The airplane wreckage was released on August 30, 1999, to a representative of the Sussex Airport.

(c) 2009-2018 Lee C. Baker / Crosswind Software, LLC. For informational purposes only.