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N7055D accident description

Oregon map... Oregon list
Crash location 46.218889°N, 123.796666°W
Nearest city Astoria, OR
46.187884°N, 123.831253°W
2.7 miles away
Tail number N7055D
Accident date 23 Mar 2016
Aircraft type North American At 6A
Additional details: None
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NTSB Factual Report

HISTORY OF FLIGHT

On March 23, 2016, about 1542 Pacific daylight time, a North American AT-6A, N7055D, impacted the Columbia River near Astoria, Oregon. The private pilot and the passenger sustained fatal injuries, and the airplane was destroyed. The airplane was registered to and operated by the pilot as a personal flight under the provisions of Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed at the time and location of the accident, and no flight plan had been filed. The flight departed Pearson Field Airport, Vancouver, Washington, about 1506.

The passenger was seated in the aft cockpit, and the flight was intended to be for the dispersal of her deceased husband's ashes. According to representatives of the passenger's family, the plan was to disperse the ashes along the Pacific coast near a beach house the passenger owned in Ocean Shores, Washington, and, if the weather along the coast was bad, they were going to drop the ashes over the Columbia River instead. The beach house was about 115 miles northwest of Pearson Field and about 45 miles north of the entrance to the Columbia River channel.

A witness, who was the captain of a cargo ship moored at an anchorage in the river channel about 1 mile northeast of Astoria, was on the ship's bridge at the time of the accident. He observed the airplane flying about 300 ft above sea level, approaching the ship from the starboard quarter traveling on a north-northeast track. He walked outside to watch as it flew directly overhead and across the ship's port beam. It continued on the same track away from the ship, and, a short time later, he saw the left wing dip as the airplane began a left turn. A few seconds later the wings were almost vertical, and the airplane then rapidly transitioned into an aggressive steep vertical dive. The airplane hit the water in a nose-down attitude, and the captain saw a red tail section bob back into view and then sink. The airplane was flying level over the water surface leading up to the turn, and the captain could hear the engine operating throughout the flight.

Another witness, located inside her apartment close to the southern shore of the waterfront in Astoria, was at a north-facing window with a view of the channel. She observed an airplane directly ahead flying over the water and east toward and over moored ships. She was familiar with the helicopter traffic of the Columbia Bar Pilots, and the airplane immediately seemed unusual to her because of its low altitude. It was flying at the same level as the ship's stacks relative to her position at an altitude typically flown by the helicopters. The airplane was flying at a speed she considered to be slower than normal, and it then began a slow and "graceful" turn to what appeared to be the left. She likened the maneuver to the way a large commercial airplane turns, and, as it progressed, she could eventually see the full wing profile. The turn continued, and, before completing 180°, the nose of the airplane aggressively dropped, and the airplane transitioned into an almost vertical dive, passing out of view behind a ship. The airplane was flying straight and level up until the turn that resulted in the accident.

The witnesses reported that the airplane was not trailing smoke or vapor at any time and that the weather included good visibility, with overcast skies above the airplane's altitude. They further stated that it was not raining at the time of the accident, but rain began later that day. Due to the airplane's low altitude and the local terrain features, there were no radar data for the final portions of the flight.

The witnesses guided search and rescue personnel from the Coast Guard and Clatsop County Sheriff's Department to the approximate accident location. No wreckage was observed floating in the water, and weather, fast water currents, and low water visibility hampered the search efforts. Two days later, divers from the Sheriff's Department located the wreckage in 15 ft of water in a 5-mile-wide section of the channel about 1.5 miles from the southern shore. The location was about 2 miles northeast of Astoria and 11 miles east of the river mouth to the Pacific Ocean.

PERSONNEL INFORMATION

The pilot held a private pilot certificate with a rating for airplane single-engine land issued in 1976 and an instrument airplane rating issued on June 16, 2005. He held a third-class medical certificate issued on July 1, 2014, with no limitations. At the time of the application for this medical certificate, he reported 1,140 hours of total flight time, 5 hours of which occurred in the 6 months before the examination.

The pilot's logbook indicated that, since May 2007, he had accumulated about 168 hours of flight experience in the AT-6A airplane (all in the accident airplane). His last entry in the logbook was dated March 19, 2016, and he reported at that time a total flight experience of 1,282.4 hours. His last flight review took place on October 1, 2013. No logbooks with entries before 2007 were recovered.

The pilot had been involved in an airplane accident in August 2004, during takeoff in a Taylorcraft DC-65 airplane (NTSB accident number SEA04LA156). The NTSB determined the cause to be his inadequate compensation for wind conditions and his failure to maintain airspeed, resulting in a stall. The NTSB cited the pilot's failure to use all of the available runway and the high-gusty winds as contributing factors.

AIRPLANE INFORMATION

The tailwheel-configured airplane had retractable main landing gear and was powered by a nine-cylinder Pratt & Whitney R-1340-AN1 radial engine, which drove a two-blade constant-speed propeller.

Maintenance records indicated that a disassembly and restoration of the airplane was completed in 2006, after which it was issued an experimental special airworthiness certificate in the exhibition category. According to the maintenance records, at that time, the airframe had accrued a total time of 2,931 flight hours. The last logbook entry was on May 23, 2014, and was for a condition inspection. The entry indicated a total flight time of 3,070.7 hours. The recording hour meter had fragmented during the accident, preventing an accurate determination of airframe and engine time. However, according to the pilot's logbooks, he had flown the airplane for 8.5 hours since May 24, 2014.

The pilot reported to a friend before departure that he had recently fueled the airplane, and the last entry in the pilot's flight logbook indicated that the airplane had been fueled on the pilot's last flight, 4 days before the accident. According to the manager of Astoria Regional Airport, the airplane did not arrive at or obtain fuel from Astoria on the day of the accident.

METEOROLOGICAL INFORMATION

The closest weather reporting station was located at Astoria Regional Airport, Astoria, Oregon, about 5 miles southwest of the accident location. An automated report issued at 1455 indicated wind from 190° at 13 knots gusting to 24 knots and variable between 160° and 230°; visibility 10 miles; light rain beginning at 1421; scattered clouds at 4,500 ft, broken ceiling at 5,000 ft, and an overcast ceiling at 6,500 ft; temperature 11°C; dew point 7°C; and altimeter 30.20 inches of mercury.

By 1555, the visibility had reduced to 4 miles with light rain, scattered clouds at 2,400 ft, and an overcast ceiling at 3,100 ft.

The closest weather reporting station to the primary intended ash dispersal location was Bowerman Airport, Hoquiam, Washington, about 10 miles east of Ocean Shores. An automated report issued at 1453 indicated wind from 150° at 22 knots gusting to 25 knots; visibility 4 miles; light rain beginning at 1415; mist; scattered clouds at 1,600 ft, broken at 2,200 ft, and overcast ceiling at 3,100 ft.

By 1553, the visibility had reduced to 1 3/4 miles with light rain and mist, broken clouds at 1,300 ft and 1,700 ft, and an overcast ceiling at 2,400 ft.

A video of the airplane departing for the flight was taken by a friend of the pilot. The video revealed light rain and overcast ceilings.

According to a representative from Lockheed Martin Flight Service, the pilot did not request any weather services. Additionally, there was no record of the pilot obtaining a weather briefing from any Direct User Access Terminal (DUAT) providers.

WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION

The underwater debris field was about 150 ft long and 100 ft wide. The wreckage had broken into multiple sections and was recovered by a diving team. The sections included the fuselage, which was still attached to the empennage, the right wing outboard of the main landing gear, the wing center section, and the engine and propeller. Additionally, the fragmented left wing, along with cabin debris and airframe and control surface skins were recovered. (Photo 1, 2).

MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION

According to the autopsy performed by the Clatsop County Medical Examiner's Office, Clackamas, Oregon, the cause of death for the pilot was multiple blunt force injuries, and the manner of death was accident.

Examination of the body for natural disease was limited by the severity of the pilot's injuries. The heart was lacerated, which complicated the evaluation, but severe coronary artery disease was identified. The proximal third of the left anterior descending coronary artery had about 90% occlusion that was described as a pinpoint lumen. Several millimeters of the proximal left circumflex coronary artery also had 90% or greater occlusion. The myocardium was otherwise grossly normal. No weights or other measurements were given, and microscopic evaluation of the myocardium did not identify any myocardial fibrosis or inflammation.

Toxicology testing performed by the FAA's Bioaeronautical Sciences Research Laboratory identified sertraline, its metabolite desmethylsertraline, and trazodone in urine and cavity blood.

Sertraline is an antidepressant prescription medication commonly marketed with the name Zoloft. It falls within the selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors drug class and is not generally considered sedating. Although the use of antidepressant drugs is usually disqualifying for aeromedical certification purposes, FAA guidance indicates that the authorization decision is made on a case-by-case basis, when a pilot is taking one of four potentially allowable antidepressants. These are sertraline (which the pilot was taking), plus fluoxetine (Prozac), escitalopram (Lexapro), and citalopram (Celexa).

Trazodone is a prescription antidepressant that can be sedating. It comes with this warning: "Trazodone hydrochloride tablets may cause somnolence or sedation and may impair the mental and/or physical ability required for the performance of potentially hazardous tasks. Patients should be cautioned about operating hazardous machinery, including automobiles, until they are reasonably certain that the drug treatment does not affect them adversely." In addition, trazodone can increase the potential for arrhythmias in patients with pre-existing cardiac disease.

Pilot's FAA Medical Information

The pilot had reported multiple eye conditions and procedures, multiple orthopedic procedures, chronic back pain, and sinus disease to his FAA medical examiner. He reported brief treatment for depression in 2000 but said that it had resolved. At the time of his most recent FAA medical examination, dated July 1, 2014, he reported frequent or severe headaches, hand surgery, and the use of intranasal steroids (fluticasone and beclomethasone) as well as ocular drops of cyclosporine (a treatment for dry eyes). He did not report his use of sertraline and trazodone, and he was issued a third-class medical certificate without limitations.

Review of the pilot's personal, non-FAA medical records revealed that he had presented multiple times to physicians with complaints of fatigue. He was diagnosed with sleep apnea in 2011, which was treated with a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine. However, data downloaded periodically from his CPAP machine indicated that he was never compliant with the FAA frequency and duration usage requirements.

The pilot was diagnosed with major depression in 1999 and was placed on sertraline. The records document remission of his symptoms, and he stopped receiving prescriptions for the drug sometime between 2002 and 2004. However, in 2014, he told one of his personal physicians that he had continued to use sertraline and had been obtaining it from India for many years out of concern about FAA regulations.

After again complaining of fatigue, the pilot was prescribed and used trazodone for sleep from 2013 onwards. In 2014, he was diagnosed and treated for chronic lung disease (Valley Fever), and he had symptoms of post-concussive syndrome due to sports injures for several months in 2014 and 2015, and although these symptoms were later thought to have completely resolved, he had stopped flying, driving, and working during that period.

TESTS AND RESEARCH

Ash Dispersal Procedures

Friends and fellow pilots gave similar descriptions of the ash dispersal procedures the pilot planned to use, stating that the bag had been used on multiple occasions by other pilots.

One pilot stated that the bag was made of canvas, with a plastic inner liner that was cinched at the top, and tethered to the airframe from within the cabin. The procedures required slowing down the airplane, following which the passenger would throw the bag out of the window. The ashes would then release into the slipstream, and the bag would be pulled back in.

The pilot's daughter flew with him in the airplane to disperse ashes over the water between downtown Seattle and Bainbridge Island in June 2015. She stated that on that occasion she was briefed by her father on the dispersal procedures both before and during the flight. Before takeoff, the ashes were placed in the bag, which she described as being about the size of a paper lunch bag. The bag was cinched closed with a rope, and tied by a longer rope to an interior airframe member on the right side. She sat in the rear seat, facing forward, and, when the time to disperse came, she slid the rear canopy open. The pilot then performed a shallow banking maneuver to the right, and she reached out with her hand holding the bag along the airframe side. She then let go of the bag, the rope unraveled, and the ashes immediately "puffed" and dispersed, and she pulled the bag back in. She reiterated that the airplane banked gently during the maneuver, and the bank never felt exaggerated.

A friend of the passenger stated that he had initially been approached by her to drop the ashes, but he turned her down due to the design of his airplane not being conducive to performing the procedure. Another friend stated that he had been approached by her to drop the ashes and that they had agreed to do it on March 23. However, about 5 days before, he called asking that they reschedule because the weather looked bad. At that time, she stated that she had decided to cancel the drop altogether.

Airframe Examination

Following recovery, the airplane was examined by the NTSB investigator-in-charge and an airframe and powerplant mechanic who specialized in AT-6 aircraft maintenance. A complete examination report is included in the public docket for this investigation, and the following is a summary of pertinent findings.

The forward fuselage sustained crush damage, compressing and fracturing most of the truss and shedding and separating the side skins. Aft of the cabin, the tailcone remained intact and sustained buckling damage to the forward skins. Aft of that damage, the horizontal and vertical stabilizers remained attached, and the left elevator had bent up about 90° midspan.

The airplane was equipped with dual controls, and the rear control stick was detachable. Examination revealed that the rear control stick, which was found separated from the airframe, was undamaged. Its female socket fitting in the airframe control system did not reveal any indications of damage, and the upper tang of its storage dock on the cabin side had detached, consistent with the aft control stick being disconnected and stowed at the time of the

NTSB Probable Cause

The pilot's loss of aircraft control during a low-altitude ash dispersal maneuver. Contributing to the accident was his degraded performance due to his medical conditions.

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