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N17970 accident description

Vermont map... Vermont list
Crash location 44.592777°N, 72.745833°W
Nearest city Morrisville, VT
44.561719°N, 72.598449°W
7.6 miles away
Tail number N17970
Accident date 29 Aug 2018
Aircraft type Schweizer SGS 2 32
Additional details: None

NTSB Factual Report

On August 29, 2018, about 1200 eastern daylight time, a Schweizer SGS 2-32 glider, N17970, operated by Stowe Soaring, was substantially damaged during collision with trees and terrain while maneuvering over Sterling Mountain, Morristown, Vermont. The commercial pilot and two passengers were fatally injured. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and no flight plan was filed for the aerial sightseeing flight which departed Morrisville-Stowe State Airport (MVL) about 1140 and was conducted under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91.

According to the tow pilot, the purpose of the flight was to provide a 30-minute sightseeing tour to two passengers in the 3-place glider. After takeoff, he climbed his airplane to 4,500 feet, where he released the glider from the tow. The glider turned westbound toward Spruce Creek and Sterling Pond, Morristown, Vermont. The tow pilot returned to MVL, and he did not visually monitor the flight of the glider.

A witness who was hiking near Sterling Pond observed the tow plane and glider above the pond. He photographed both airplanes while the glider was on tow, and the glider after its release. The witness provided an interview to local police along with copies of his photographs. According to the summary, the witness watched as the tow plane made a "slingshot" turn and released the glider from the tow. He watched the glider fly away and "disappear" into the clouds.

The tow pilot stated that when the glider had not returned after 45 minutes, an attempt was made to reach the pilot by radio, without success. After numerous attempts over multiple radios and by cellular telephone, MVL personnel notified the local 911 operator of the missing glider, and an ALNOT was subsequently issued. The tow pilot and another local pilot began an aerial search, and at 1756, the glider was identified from the air near the summit of Sterling Mountain. At 2135, search and rescue crews reached the accident site about 40 feet below the summit, at 3,673 feet elevation. The accident site was 7 miles from MVL, on a 297-degree ground track.

The pilot/owner/operator held a commercial pilot certificate with a rating for gliders. He held a private pilot certificate with ratings for airplane single engine land, single engine sea, and instrument airplane. His Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) 3rd class medical certificate was issued June 30, 2018. A review of the pilot's logbooks revealed he had accrued 3,103 total hours of flight experience, 1,214 hours of which were in gliders. He had accrued 406 hours of flight experience in the accident glider make and model.

According to FAA records, the glider was manufactured in 1973. Airframe logbooks revealed its most recent annual inspection was completed July 3, 2018 at 3,589 total aircraft hours. Records of the glider's most recent weight and balance were not immediately discovered.

At 1154, the weather recorded at MVL included clear skies, 10 miles visibility, and winds from 190 at 9 knots. The temperature was 29°C, and the dew point was 22°C. The altimeter setting was 29.90 inches of mercury.

When asked about weather conditions at the time of departure, during the climb, and before and after the glider release, the tow pilot said, "the air was really smooth" but that he had to "weave around the clouds." There was "plenty of room" between the clouds. According to the tow pilot, "Some of the mountaintops were partially obscured."

The wreckage was examined at the site, and all major components were accounted for at the scene. The glider came to rest in a near-vertical, nose-down attitude. The nose and leading edge of the left wing rested on the ground. The left wing was torn about 9 feet inboard of the tip but remained attached by sheet metal and control tubes. The right wing was attached and bowed slightly between the aileron attach points.

The empennage was wrinkled on the left side just aft of the wing, and the tail section, vertical fin, rudder, horizontal stabilizer, and elevator were intact.

The nose enclosure, rudder controls, instrument panel, and front cockpit were destroyed by impact. The passenger compartment appeared largely intact. The front seat belt was released by rescue personnel. The rear seatbelt was secured at the buckle, but the right-side seat belt mount bracket was fractured. The bracket section attached at the belt was not recovered. The fracture surfaces on the bracket section attached to the airframe exhibited fracture features consistent with overstress.

Flight control continuity was confirmed from the cockpit to all flight control surfaces.

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