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N733DH accident description

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Crash location Unknown
Nearest city Dyke, VA
38.253741°N, 78.539736°W

Tail number N733DH
Accident date 25 Aug 1999
Aircraft type Cessna 172N
Additional details: None

NTSB description


On August 25, 1999, about 0940 Eastern Daylight Time, a Cessna 172N, N733DH, was destroyed when it impacted mountainous terrain near Dyke, Virginia. The certificated private pilot and three passengers were fatally injured. Instrument meteorological conditions prevailed at the time of the accident. No flight plan was filed for the flight, which departed the Newport News/Williamsburg International Airport (PHF), Newport News, Virginia, for the Shenandoah Valley Regional Airport (SHD), Weyers Cave, Virginia. The personal flight was conducted under 14 CFR Part 91.

The accident airplane had been rented from a flight school at Newport News, and the school's dispatcher stated that she first saw the pilot about 0800 on the day of the accident. The pilot said he was going to fly to Charlottesville, Virginia, and logged the airplane out accordingly, with a return time of 1700. The pilot told the dispatcher that he had checked the weather, that the clouds were at 3,100 feet, that he would be flying at 2,500 feet, and that "it's clear where I'm going." After the pilot had been outside preflighting the airplane for awhile, it began to rain. The dispatcher went out to find him, but found that the airplane had departed without the pilot finishing the sign-out process. The dispatcher advised the flight school owner of her concerns, and because the weather had deteriorated, began a telephone search for the airplane around 1230. She went off duty about 1400.

The owner of the flight school continued the telephone search. In addition to finding that the airplane was not operating on a flight plan, the search revealed that the airplane had taken off at 0835, and that the pilot had arranged for flight following through Newport News Ground Control. According to a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Inspector, the flight following was terminated by air traffic control about 0916, when the airplane was on the 328-degree radial, 28 nautical miles from the Richmond VOR.

Through the coordinated search efforts of numerous agencies over the next two days, and the use of radar data, an approximate position of the airplane was determined. The wreckage was then found by ground search teams on the morning of August 27, 1999, on Flattop Mountain, in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Additional information provided from radar and transponder data, recorded on the day of the accident, included airplane altitude readouts in the vicinity of the crash site of about 2,100 feet at time 0938:38; 1,550 feet at 0939:06; 2,200 feet at 0939:52; and a final altitude readout of 2,080 feet at 0940:01.

The accident site was about 12 nautical miles to the northwest of, and beyond the pilot's stated destination. The Virginia State Police subsequently determined that the pilot was actually trying to fly to the Shenandoah Valley Airport instead of Charlottesville, so the adult passenger could visit her oldest child in Staunton, Virginia.

The accident occurred during daylight hours, at 38 degrees, 17.32 minutes north latitude, 78 degrees, 35.51 minutes west longitude.


The pilot's logbook was not recovered. However, when he received his private pilot certification on August 5, 1999, he indicated he had 43 hours of flight time. The pilot was not instrument-rated.

The pilot's latest third class medical certificate was issued on November 6, 1998.


The Charlottesville-Albemarle Airport (CHO) was located about 12 nautical miles to the southeast of the accident site, on the eastern side of the mountain range, at an elevation of approximately 640 feet. Weather recorded there, at 0953, included winds from 070 degrees magnetic at 5 knots, a visibility of 5 statute miles, light rain and mist, a broken cloud layer at 1,100 feet above the ground, an overcast cloud layer at 2,700 feet, temperature 21 degrees Celsius, dewpoint 20 degrees Celsius, and an altimeter setting of 30.00 inches.

The Shenandoah Valley Regional Airport was located about 14 nautical miles to the west of the accident site, and to the west of the mountain range, at an elevation of approximately 1,200 feet. Weather recorded there, at 0941, included calm winds, a visibility of 1 statute mile, heavy rain, a broken cloud layer at 900 feet above the ground, an overcast cloud layer at 1,500 feet above the ground, temperature 21 degrees Celsius, dewpoint 20 degrees Celsius, and an altimeter setting of 30.02 inches.

A forest ranger stated that, between the hours of 0800 and 1330, he was at the Simmons Gap Ranger Station, which was less than 2 nautical miles northwest of the accident site, at an elevation of 2,253 feet. He described the weather conditions during that time period as low-lying cloud cover with limited visibility, intermittent periods of heavy rain, and light winds.


Prior to the arrival of Safety Board personnel, approval was given to document the site, and then move the wreckage as needed to recover the victims' remains.

The wreckage was located on the eastern side of 3,280-foot Flattop Mountain, on a 30-degree slope, at an elevation about 2,370 feet above sea level. The mountain was part of a chain, with local-area maximum elevations ranging from about 2,500 feet, to over 3,200 feet above sea level. The terrain at the wreckage site was mostly tree-covered, with numerous rocks and boulders, both protruding above, and resting below the topsoil layer. Several damaged trees were found along a path that led toward the wreckage, on a 260-degree magnetic heading. The trunk of the damaged tree farthest from the wreckage was shattered, with a declination of 0 degrees between the damaged area and the airplane's ground impact point. A smaller branch, attached to, and rising above the tree trunk, was also shattered. The declination between the damaged part of that branch and the impact point, was about 15 degrees. Numerous cut tree branches were found on the ground, with cuts at 45-degree angles.

All of the airplane's control surfaces were accounted for at the accident site. The cabin area, including the instrument panel and engine controls, was consumed by fire, as was the surrounding vegetation. The engine was also fire-damaged, and the engine accessories were burned away. The exhaust manifold exhibited some bending and folding. One propeller blade was broken in two places, while the other exhibited leading-edge notching.


An autopsy was conducted on the pilot's remains by the Commonwealth of Virginia, Department of Health, Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, Richmond, Virginia.

Toxicological testing was performed on the pilot's remains by the Commonwealth of Virginia, Department of Criminal Justice Services, Division of Forensic Science, Richmond Virginia, and by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Toxicology and Accident Research Laboratory, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Results were negative for legal and illegal drugs, and ethanol.


The wreckage was released to the Virginia State Police on August 28, 1999.

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