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On January 19, 1999, about 0445 hours Pacific standard time, a Beech F35, N3364C, was destroyed when it collided with high terrain near Chino, California. The non-instrument rated private pilot and three passengers were fatally injured. The airplane was owned and operated by the pilot's father, under the provisions of 14 CFR Part 91. The personal flight originated from the Corona, California, airport about 0440 and was en route to Lake Tahoe, California. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and no flight plan was filed.
The pilot and passengers, all off-duty firemen from the Corona Fire Department, were en route to Lake Tahoe for a snowboarding trip. A review of Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) airman records disclosed no evidence that any of the passengers held a pilot certificate. The pilot indicated to his father that their departure was planned for approximately 0430. No witnesses were found that saw the airplane depart.
There was no record of a weather briefing from a Flight Service Station, GTE DUAT, or DTC DUAT. A flight plan was not filed and there was no record of a request for any in-flight services.
Seven witnesses were identified who either heard, or saw portions of the accident sequence.
Witness No. 7 (see map) lives approximately 1 mile northeast of the Corona airport and heard an airplane, whose engine was sputtering badly, pass overhead shortly after 0400. Witness No. 6 lives approximately 1 mile southwest of the Corona airport and reported a loud airplane, with the throttle high, woke him up. He did not hear backfiring, but it was missing and coughing. He looked out his window and saw that it was dark and foggy. He had no sense of direction of flight, and did not note the time. However, he normally gets up at 0530 to get ready for work and noted that after watching television a very short while, it was time to start his normal routine.
Witnesses 1 and 2 called emergency services and a review of emergency records indicated the first call was at 0446:21. Witness 1 reported his alarm went off at 0440, and he first heard the airplane several minutes later. His bedroom window faced toward the area of the accident, less than a mile away. Witnesses 1, 2, and 3 lived closest to the accident site and reported hearing the airplane for between 1 and 2 minutes. The engine sounded smooth and they heard no indications of problems. Witnesses 1 and 2 thought the aircraft circled three or four times because the engine sound went through several cycles of stronger and weaker tones. The tones stayed in the same small area. Witnesses 1 and 2 heard the engine until they saw a distinct orange flash. They could see a glow in the sky and witness 1 could see the outline of the nearest foothill for another 10 to 15 minutes. Witness No. 4, who was in a car on the westbound 91 freeway, said he saw a fireball moving then a flash. He saw pieces on fire spread from the original flash and several pockets of flames continued to burn after the initial fireball subsided. Witness No. 5 was on the northbound 71 freeway, 1 mile east of the accident site, and reported it was clear and didn't appear foggy. He did not see or hear anything until he saw a bright flash and the valley on his left side light up. He observed a cylinder of intense blue orange flame that mushroomed; the light seemed to fade as it was still expanding. Witnesses 1 and 2 met as they walked into the foothills to investigate. As they walked the top of the hillsides, they reported the mist dispersed the beams of their flashlights and they could not see across the canyons.
Recorded radar data for the area of the accident site was reviewed. A secondary 1200 (VFR) beacon code was noted at a mode C reported altitude of 1,000 feet msl (mean sea level), 1 mile west of the Corona airport at 0442:09. As the target climbed, it initially headed westerly, then northwest, then westerly again. At 0443:09, the target displayed a mode C altitude of 1,800 feet and turned to the southwest. At 0443:33, the mode C reported 2,200 feet as the track commenced a 360-degree turn to the left. During the turn the mode C altitude increased to 2,300 feet, dropped to 2,200 feet, then increased to 2,500 feet at the completion of the turn. The target continued the left turn and completed the next 360 degrees of turn in 47 seconds; the mode C altitude at completion was 2,000 feet. The left turn continued, and the last target recorded was a primary return at 0445:20 without a mode C report. It's coordinates were 33 degrees 54 minutes 23 seconds north latitude and 117 degrees 39 minutes 35 seconds west longitude.
The accident site was 33 degrees 54.65 minutes north latitude and 117 degrees 39.75 minutes west longitude at 1,112 feet. A Safety Board computer program calculated this was approximately 3 miles, bearing 270 degrees, from the Corona airport (elevation 533 feet).
A review of FAA records revealed the pilot held a private pilot certificate with an airplane single engine land rating. The only pilot's logbook found covered the time period from November 1992 to May 1996, and included flight time from 0 to 379.1 hours. A review of this logbook disclosed 254.7 of those hours were as pilot-in-command, 24.6 hours were at night, and 1.7 hours were simulated instruments. An application for medical certificate dated November 20, 1996, listed total pilot time as 410 hours, with 40 hours flown in the previous 6 months. An application for a medical certificate dated October 14, 1998, listed total pilot time as 400 hours, with 40 hours flown the previous 6 months. An instructor was located who stated the pilot completed a biennial flight review on July 8, 1997. FAA records indicated a third-class medical certificate was issued on October 14, 1998, with no limitations or waivers.
The airplane was a Beech F35, serial number D-4031. A review of the airplane's logbooks disclosed an annual inspection was completed on January 5, 1998. Total airframe time was listed as 4,617.2 hours at a tachometer time of 57.5. An entry dated November 13, 1998, noted the transponder was inspected "to FAR Part 43 Appendix F."
A Teledyne Continental Motors IO-520-MCBA engine, serial number 235421-R, was installed in the airframe. An entry in the engine logbook dated January 16, 1997 noted the engine was "repaired and assembled in accordance with Cont. IO 520 parts and overhaul manual." The engine was installed on N3364C on April 20, 1998, at a tachometer time of 57.5.
The logbooks noted the McCauley 2A36C23 propeller was installed on April 20, 1998. It had a total time since new of 1,818.2 hours.
An aircraft weight and balance report dated November 27, 1996 revised the airplane's weight and balance data sheet. It listed the new empty weight as 1,846.00 pounds, total moment of 145,589.20 inch pounds, and listed the empty weight center of gravity as 78.87 inches aft of the datum.
The Safety Board computed a range of gross weight and center of gravity locations for this flight. The pilot was found in the left front seat; however, the three passengers were ejected and could not be placed in specific seats within the airplane. The computation assumed that the heaviest passenger was in the right front seat, which would yield the most forward of the possible center of gravity locations. Department of Motor Vehicle records indicated the weight of the pilot was 180 pounds and the passengers were 185, 178, and 175 pounds. The San Bernardino County Coroner's office weighed all personal property recovered from the airplane and the surrounding scene; the total was 75.7 pounds. The last pilot to fly the airplane verified the airplane was full of fuel (60 gallons) prior to the flight. At 5.87 pounds per gallon, the fuel weight computed to 352.2 pounds. Placing the heaviest passenger in the front seat, total weight and center of gravity of the airplane at the start of this flight computed to 2,991.9 pounds at 87.67 inches aft of the datum. The Type Certificate Data Sheet stated the maximum certified gross weight was 2,750 pounds with a center of gravity range between 83.2 and 85.1 inches aft of the datum at that weight.
A staff meteorologist for the Safety Board prepared a factual report, which included the following information on the weather for the departure area, anticipated route of flight, and destination. At the time of the accident, visual meteorological conditions prevailed at Chino Airport, located approximately 023 degrees at 4 nautical miles from the accident site. Chino was 5 nautical miles from the departure point. The airport/facility directory, southwest U. S., listed a field elevation of 650 feet for Chino. The Chino (KCNO) aviation routine weather report (METAR) issued at 0453 indicated: winds were calm; the sky condition was 1,100 feet overcast; mist; temperature 54 degrees Fahrenheit; dew point 48 degrees; and altimeter 30.17 inHg. A Safety Board software package determined sunrise was at 0652 and there was 4 percent illumination of the moon.
Ontario, California, elevation 943 feet, was located approximately 020 degrees at 9 miles from the accident site. The Ontario (KONT) METAR issued at 0453 stated: wind 180 at 3 knots; visibility 3 miles, mist, 800 feet overcast; temperature 52 degrees Fahrenheit; dew point 50 degrees Fahrenheit; and altimeter 30.15 inHg.
Riverside, California, elevation 816 feet, was located approximately 080 degrees at 11 miles from the accident site. The Riverside (KRAL) METAR issued at 0453 stated: wind calm; visibility 3 miles, mist, 700 feet overcast; temperature 54 degrees Fahrenheit; dew point 50 degrees Fahrenheit; and altimeter 30.15 inHg.
Fullerton, California, elevation 96 feet, was located approximately 260 degrees at 16 miles from the accident site. The Fullerton (KFUL) METAR issued for 0453 stated: wind calm; visibility 5 miles, haze, 1,500 feet overcast; temperature 55 degrees Fahrenheit; dew point 50 degrees Fahrenheit; and altimeter 30.15 inHg.
The meteorologist's report referenced a pilot report (PIREP) for the La Verne, California, area: "Location- La Verne: time-0215; altitude-unknown; type aircraft-Piper PA34; sky condition-overcast 1,000 feet top 3,000 feet; remarks-during climb La Verne."
A Terminal Aerodrome Forecast (TAF) for KONT, issued by the Los Angeles National Weather Service (NWS), was valid beginning at 0400. It stated: wind variable at 3 knots; visibility 3 miles, mist, clouds overcast 900 feet; temporary 0400 to 0600 visibility 1 mile, mist.
AIRMET SIERRA update 1 for IFR and mountain obscuration was issued January 19 at 0045 and valid until 0700. For the area from Red Bluff, California, to Reno, Nevada, to Fresno, California, to Salinas, California, to Ukiah, California, and Red Bluff: occasional ceiling below 1,000 feet, visibility below 3 miles in fog/precipitation, conditions continuing beyond 0700 ending 1200. For the area from 80 miles northwest of Santa Barbara, California, to 40 east of Los Angeles, to 40 southwest of San Diego, to 80 northwest of Santa Barbara: occasional ceiling below 1,000 feet, visibility below 3 miles in fog/ mist/ haze, conditions continuing beyond 0700 ending 1100. Also noted for California and Nevada was occasional mountain obscuration in clouds/ precipitation continuing beyond 0700.
WRECKAGE AND IMPACT
The main wreckage was located on a road along a finger of rising terrain. The finger's crest was aligned approximately 250 degrees with about 12 degrees of upslope and the sides were inclined about 25 degrees. First evidence of ground contact was near the top of the finger where it joined a ridgeline. The wreckage path was along a heading of 180 degrees. First evidence of ground contact was a ground scar that was 12 inches wide, 3 inches deep, and measured at 60 degrees to level. Red lens fragments, a lens cap, and a light filament (that was stretched and distorted but continuous) were found in the extreme left portion of this ground scar. Near the other end of the ground scar, approximately 18 feet away, was the left wing tip. To the right of the wing tip was another ground scar, perpendicular to the first, and about 3 feet long. Six feet further, on top of the crest, was the principal impact crater (PIC). It was 10 feet long, 5 feet wide, and about 10 inches deep in dirt. In the center of the crater was a propeller blade with a section of the tip missing; the fracture surface was irregular. The outboard 6 inches of the tip were bent aft and the blade twisted toward the cambered side.
The terrain showed extensive fire damage beginning 6 feet prior to the left wing tip. The burn area fanned out as the debris path crossed over the finger's crest, then narrowed back down to the fuselage. Seats and other pieces found outside the burn area were not sooty. Plexiglass shards found outside of the burn area were clear, not distorted, and free of soot on both sides. Debris and loose items from the airplane were scattered along the path. Two large packs, one small pack, snowboards, and other personal property were found in the debris field.
Measurement to the airplane's pieces were made from the center of the PIC and based on left or right of the debris path centerline. Six feet left of the PIC was a section of the outboard left wing. Fourteen feet from the PIC was the left ruddervator counterweight. The left aileron was 35 feet from the PIC and 10 feet right. The emergency egress window was 9 left at 44 feet. The window was broken, but the remaining pieces were clear and not sooty on either side. Over the crest, at 100 feet and 5 right, was a seat frame with all material burned off. The propeller hub with one blade and a section of crankshaft still attached was at 100 feet and 20 left. Near the hub, at 110 feet and 25 left, was the right wing with its aileron attached. The fuel tank area was disintegrated and molten metal was evident in that area. The right wing fractured near the root. At 120 feet 70 right, was the nose wheel. The entry door was 15 right at 140 feet; the outer handle was stowed in its recessed position, and the top latch was extended. At 170 feet and 45 feet right was the ELT (emergency locator transmitter); it was set to the auto position. Near the ELT was the internal handle for the entry door.
Three occupants were ejected from the airplane. Victim 2 was at 170 feet and 10 left. The burn area in this vicinity was patchy. This victim had thermal injuries to most of the body; however, body surface in contact with the ground, and the ground under it, was not burned. A nearby pack was not burned but had melted nylon chords on it. The locked seat latch mechanism and some seat belt webbing was found wrapped in clothing around the pelvic area.
The main wreckage was located on a road about 180 feet from the PIC. The fuselage was aligned to the north, opposite the direction of the debris field. The airplane's cabin area was consumed by fire, but the empennage was not. Victim 1 was in a horizontal, face up position in the left side of the cabin area. Thermal injury was evident to the entire body except for an area on the underside. The control yoke was touching this victim. The flaps and remainder of the left wing were in this burned area of wreckage.
The exterior paint on the empennage was blistered and displayed some discoloration. The left ruddervator had a cylindrical impression approximately 2 feet from the tip that extended from the leading edge to the front spar. A leading edge cuff modification was observed on the stabilizers. The left cuff and left front spar attachments separated from the fuselage.
The engine was found separated from the airplane. It was inverted on the left side of the empennage (with the empennage heading north), slightly in front of the left ruddervator. Flight control continuity was established from the controls to the front cabin area, but could not be confirmed past that point due to the destruction of the cabin. Two seat backs were near the tail section; neither was burned or sooty.
At 200 feet 25 right, victim 3 was found outside of the burn area with no thermal injuries. At 223 feet, victim 4 was found outside the burn area with no thermal injuries. Victim 4 was downslope from the fuselage. A 20-foot length of flattened grass and broken brush led to this victim.
At 210 feet 60 left was the engine's top cowling with some bottom pieces attached. It was not in a burn area; its paint was not sooty or blistered. The right main landing gear was in a brushy tree at 240 feet 90 right. The last piece of wreckage found was a magneto coil, about 360 feet and 20 right.
MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION
An autopsy was completed by the San Bernardino County Coroner. Toxicological testing of specimens of the pilot was performed by the FAA Toxicology and Accident Research Laboratory, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Tests for carbon monoxide and cyanide were not performed due to the lack of a suitable specimen. Ethanol and acetaldehyde were detected in muscle and kidney samples and putrefaction was noted. No drugs were detected in a kidney sample.
TESTS AND RESEARCH
An examination of the airplane and powerplant was conducted by the Safety Board in Compton, California, on January 20, 1999. Both propeller blades exhibited chordwise scratching and were twisted toward the cambered side. The trailing edge of the separated blade found in the principal impact crater exhibited witness marks in the hub mounting area. The crankcase fractured at cylinder number 6 and that cylinder's front mounting stud was displaced aft. The crankshaft and its separated piece exhibited a grainy, 45-degree fracture surface around their circumference. All valve train components were in place.
The magnetos separated and were destroyed. The dry vacuum pump separated from the mount and the internal rotor vanes were bent opposite the direction of rotation. The pump case showed rotational scoring on its back and side walls. The directional gyro and another gyro were disassembled and exhibited rotational scoring on the gyro and the case.
The fuel pump shaft sheared along an angular plane. The fuel manifold valve was disassembled and several drops of fluid dribbled out. Fuel screens for the manifold valve, fuel selector valve, and metering valve appeared clear and free of contamination. The fuel selector valve handle was broken near the control shaft, but the pointer was complete and observed in the 0730 position. The airplane manufacturer's representative determined this corresponded to a position between the left main fuel tank and auxiliary tanks. Several pilots, who fueled their airplanes immediately after this airplane was fueled on January 12, 1999, stated they completed their normal fuel checks and encountered no problems on subsequent flights.
From the position of the landing gear retract bellcrank position, the manufacturer's representative determined the landing gear were retracted. The flap actuator rod end measured 1.75 inches, corresponding to the full up position. The elevator trim tab measured 1.28 inches. The manufacturer's representative determined this was 9 degrees tab down deflection.
The wreckage was released to the owner's representative.