NTSB Identification: MIA02FA104.
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Accident occurred Tuesday, June 04, 2002 in Lutz, FL
Probable Cause Approval Date: 12/20/2005
Aircraft: Cessna 172S, registration: N942SP
Injuries: 1 Fatal.

NTSB investigators either traveled in support of this investigation or conducted a significant amount of investigative work without any travel, and used data obtained from various sources to prepare this aircraft accident report.

The pilot had been involved in a helicopter accident that occurred 10 hours 52 minutes before the airplane accident which the helicopter he was flying solo crashed onto the roof of a house. He sustained minor injuries and there were no injuries to the three occupants of the house. The pilot was transported to a hospital where a testing of a blood specimen taken 1 hour 40 minutes after the accident indicates 136 g/dL ethanol detected. Testing of a sample from the same specimen by the FAA Toxicology and Accident Research Laboratory (CAMI) indicated 105 mg/dL ethanol in blood, or .105 percent by weight in blood. CAMI also detected acetone (1 mg/dL, mg/hg), acetaldehyde (8 mg/dL, mg/hg), citalopram (0.017 ug/ml,ug/g), and zolpidem (0.433 ug/ml,ug/g) in the blood specimen. The medical records from the hospital indicate a physician note at 2300 hours (approximately 1.5 hours after the accident), indicating slurred speech. A nursing note without a time stamp indicates the pilot admitted to ingesting ethanol "earlier today." The primary diagnosis on the emergency department physician note is, "ethanol intoxication, concussion." The pilot was released from the hospital to his parents at 0235 hours on the 4th of June, and he was transported to his apartment which he shared with a roommate. The roommate reported to the pilot's mother that on the day of the airplane accident, the pilot was watching television at 0630 hours. On the morning of the airplane accident sometime before 0710 hours, the pilot was observed taxiing the airplane to runway 36. Several witnesses reported hearing the pilot abruptly apply power to the engine several times before departing about 0709 hours. After takeoff the flight proceeded in a northwesterly direction and without establishing contact with the Tampa Approach Control or Tampa Air Traffic Control Tower, orbited for approximately 62 minutes while flying at approximately 2,200 feet. During this time an airplane that was inbound to KTPA was vectored by a controller to where the airplane was orbiting in an attempt to identify the airplane to controllers; the pilot reported seeing the pilot in the left side of the airplane. The pilot assisting air traffic control also reported that he believed the orbiting pilot was aware of the close proximity of the two airplane because it appeared to him that the orbiting pilot was maneuvering to avoid him. Attempts to communicate with the pilot on the departure airport CTAF were negative. Additionally, attempts by a flight crew member of a law enforcement helicopter to communicate with the pilot on guard (121.5 MHz) were also unsuccessful. After orbiting for 62 minutes, the airplane departed the orbits flying in a northwesterly direction for 1.6 minutes, then completed a 180 degree turn to the right. The airplane then flew in a southeasterly direction for 36 seconds, turned to the left flying in a northwesterly direction, then completed a right 360 degree descending turn. The airplane continued in a northwesterly direction, where the last primary radar target was noted in close proximity to the accident site. A witness located near the accident site area reported hearing the airplane flying at what she thought was a low altitude then heard the engine "revving" up followed by hearing the impact. Several other witnesses across the street from the crash site reported hearing the engine sound that was steady with no sputtering. The engine sound remained the same from the time they heard it until the impact. Another witness reported that he first observed the airplane when it was approximately 30-40 feet above the tops of trees. The airplane at that time was in a 80-degree nose low attitude on a southeast heading. He observed the airplane collide with the trees then heard the impact. Examination of the accident site revealed damage to trees at decreasing heights. All components necessary to sustain flight were either attached or partially attached to the airplane or were found in close proximity to the main wreckage. Examination of the flight controls for roll, pitch, and yaw revealed no evidence of preimpact failure or malfunction. The flaps were retracted. Examination of the engine revealed no evidence of preimpact failure or malfunction. The No. 1 communication/navigation transceiver was in the on position with maximum volume and the active communication frequency was set to 119.9 MHz, which is the frequency for the East Satellite sector of the Tampa Air Traffic Control Tower. The autopsy report indicates the cause of death as blunt trauma, while the manner of death was listed as "undetermined." A toxicology analysis by CAMI of postmortem specimens was positive in the blood for ethanol (69 mg/dL), acetaldehyde (82 mg/dL), citalopram (0.205 ug/ml, and zolpidem (1.54 ug/ml). The kidney tested positive for ethanol (84 mg/dL), citalopram, di-n-desmethylcitalopram, n-desmethylcitalopram, and zolpidem. The muscle tested positive for ethanol (105 mg/dL). The liver tested positive for citalopram, di-n-desmethylcitalopram, n-desmethylcitalopram, and zolpidem. The gastric contents tested positive for citalopram, di-n-desmethylcitalopram, n-desmethylcitalopram, and zolpidem. Carbon monoxide and cyanide testing was not performed. A note on the CAMI toxicology report indicates, "The ethanol found in this case may potentially be from postmortem ethanol formation and not from the ingestion of ethanol." The levels of citalopram and zolpidem detected in the post mortem blood specimen are more than 12 times and more than 3 times, respectively, greater than the levels of each detected in a hospital blood specimen taken 1 hour 40 minutes following the first accident. Additionally, the CAMI toxicology report indicates citalopram and zolpidem were detected in the submitted postmortem gastric specimen. The pilot had been charged with DUI in May 2001, and reported such on his FAA medical application dated June 1, 2001. The pilot plead nolo contendere to the DUI charge on October 4, 2001. The pilot's medical records from his private physician indicate on May 23, 2002, he complained of insomnia, and depression. The doctor provided samples of 20 mg Celexa (citalopram), one-half tablet daily, and prescribed 10 mg Ambien, 1/2 to 1 tablet to be taken at bedtime. His physician did not request a psychiatric consultation or an inquiry regarding suicidal intent or alcohol/drug use.

The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident to be:

The suicidal act by the pilot resulting in the in-flight collision with trees then the ground. A contributing factor in the accident was the pilot's depression. Findings in the investigation were the pilot's overdose of zolpidem and citalopram before the accident flight departed, and his intentional operation of the airplane while impaired by alcohol.

Full narrative available

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